• Lunchtime Photo

    I drove up Ortega Highway yesterday for reasons I’ll tell you about someday, but I missed my exit and ended up driving nearly out to Lake Elsinore. As you may know, Lake Elsinore is the site of our latest superbloom, which created traffic jams 20 miles long over the weekend. I had no intention of going anywhere near it—and no interest in the superbloom anyway—so I was taken by surprise when I looked out my window and suddenly got a look at it.

    I’m here to tell you that it was breathtaking. I was about 2,000 feet up and a few miles away, and the view was just stunning. As a camera guy I rarely say this, but pictures don’t do it justice. In real life it’s far more impressive than any pictures I’ve seen.

    Needless to say, this didn’t stop me from taking lots of pictures anyway. In fact, I took so many that I’m going to share no fewer than five superbloom pictures with you today. First off, here’s a wide panorama of the entire vista from the Ortega Highway:

    March 18, 2019 — Lake Elsinore, California

    Panoramic shots don’t work too well in the limited space of this blog, so here’s another one that’s been cropped more tightly:

    March 18, 2019 — Lake Elsinore, California

    Here’s a closeup—which is to say, a telephoto shot of the hillside:

    March 18, 2019 — Lake Elsinore, California

    Here’s another closeup of a hillside covered not just in golden poppies, but also some kind of yellow plant. Maybe mustard?

    March 18, 2019 — Lake Elsinore, California

    Finally, here’s my favorite, a shot of the superbloom with some snowy peaks in the background:

    March 18, 2019 — Lake Elsinore, California

    This is almost certainly not the superbloom at its photographic best, since these pictures were taken when the sun was high in the sky. I’m tempted to go back later this week in the early morning, but I suspect I won’t get around to it.

  • Quote of the Day: There Is No Cat Named Brexit

    Nathalie Loiseau hurries to hide from the press after investigative reporter forces her to admit she LIED about having a cat.Panoramic via ZUMA

    From Nathalie Loiseau, France’s Europe minister:

    J’ai fini par appeler mon chat Brexit. Il me réveille en miaulant à la mort parce qu’il veut sortir, et dès que je lui ouvre la porte, il reste planté au milieu, indécis, et il me jette un regard noir quand je le mets dehors.

    Here’s the translation:

    I ended up calling my cat Brexit. He wakes me up meowing to death because he wants to go out, and as soon as I open the door to him he stays planted in the middle, undecided, and he glares at me when I put him out.

    She later explained that “I think I need to have a certain sense of humor to deal with Brexit.” It turns out she doesn’t even have a cat. For shame.

  • After Medicare For All, What Comes Next?

    For many years, Republican primaries have been dominated by contests over who can produce the most ridiculously wealth-friendly tax cut with little concern over cost. It appears that this year’s Democratic primary is starting to move in the same direction, with candidates competing over who can propose the most comprehensive list of left-friendly programs with little concern over cost.

    Maybe this is fine. In real life, it’s not much more meaningful than all those tax cut plans. It’s just a way of showing where your heart is, not a serious attempt to suggest that all this stuff is going to be enacted.

    But there are some big-picture restraints that are still worth considering for those of us who continue to consider ourselves reality based. Let’s start with current government spending:

    Now let’s add in Medicare for All, since it’s a point of virtually unanimous agreement on the left. Various levels of government already account for about 45 percent of all health care expenditures, so let’s assume we can take over that pot of money and need to find funding only for the balance:

    • Total health care spending: $3.5 trillion
    • Current government share: $1.6 trillion
    • Total net cost of M4A: $1.9 trillion

    Now, I know that you all have brilliant plans for how M4A will save money, which means we won’t actually have to spend that full $1.9 trillion. But this is mostly a pipe dream. For now, then, let’s stick with the full figure. This means that total government spending, once we add M4A, comes to about $9.4 trillion.

    American GDP last year clocked in at a hair over $20 trillion. So current spending plus M4A comes to 46 percent of GDP.

    I don’t know about you, but this is roughly the highest number I’m comfortable with. There are a few countries that spend more, but 46 percent is the EU average and seems like a reasonable ceiling, especially since we’ll almost certainly drift higher than this as health care and retirement costs increase.¹

    So here’s my question: if you want lots of other goodies, there are two choices. First, reduce other spending to make room. Second, don’t worry about that 45 percent total spending number. It’s just centrist rubbish anyway.

    So which is it?

    ¹Don’t worry about taxes. For the purposes of this exercise, just assume that we impose taxes of some kind that amount to about 45 percent of GDP. You may imagine them to be as progressive as you wish.

  • Fox News Invites Paul Ryan Onto Its Board

    Alex Edelman/ZUMA

    From CNN:

    Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is joining the board of the newly slimmed-down Fox Corporation, the parent company of Fox News. Ryan and three other board of directors were appointed on Tuesday….The Ryan appointment is the most noteworthy, given his history near the top of Republican politics.

    Yes indeed. Who would ever have expected that a lifelong stone Republican would be invited onto the board of a legitimate news organization that’s totally not a propaganda arm of any political party? Truly, it’s a shocker.

  • With Ten Days Until the Deadline, Brexit Is Going Pear Shaped

    John Bercow seems pretty pleased with himself, doesn't he?House Of Commons/PA Wire via ZUMA

    Brexit sure is interesting, isn’t it? “Interesting,” that is, in the old Chinese sense. After Parliament refused to approve Theresa May’s Brexit deal, but also paradoxically insisted on not leaving the EU without a deal, May scheduled a third and final vote on approving the deal. With ten days left until the Brexit deadline, it seemed right to give Parliament one last chance.

    But then the House of Commons speaker—a nonpartisan MP who acts as a combined parliamentarian and order maintainer—threw a spanner in the works. He ruled that long precedent prohibited the same legislation from being introduced twice in a single session, so May couldn’t bring up her deal for another vote unless it was “substantially different” from the previous deal. That’s impossible, of course, since the deal was agreed with the EU and can’t be changed without their approval.

    Isn’t that great? There are still options, though. Parliament could adjourn and then begin a new session. Or May could ask the EU for an extension to work through this mess. It’s worth noting that as bad as a no-deal crash out of the EU would be for Britain, it would be bad for the EU too, and for the same reasons. So they’d probably agree to an extension.

    But who knows? On March 29 Britain is out of the EU unless everyone figures out some other alternative. They sure do like their drama in Europe, don’t they? I guess it takes the place of the endless wars they used to have.

  • The Pentagon Finally Tells Us Which Projects Will Fund Trump’s Wall. How Did Your State Make Out?

    The Pentagon has finally told us which construction projects they plan to postpone in order to dig up money for Donald Trump’s wall:

    The projects on the list run the gamut, including a hangar for drones at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea and a wastewater treatment plant at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. They represent the full spectrum of construction initiatives that the Pentagon undertakes to maintain a vast network of bases and operations around the globe. Many of the projects are updates to facilities that affect daily military life on bases — dining halls, schools, fire stations, medical facilities, roads and parking lots. Others are construction projects that directly impact military operations and training, such as firing ranges, aircraft maintenance hangars, flight simulation facilities and munitions depots.

    And guess what? Out of a total of $6.8 billion, a whopping $1.1 billion comes from projects in California. Isn’t that just the biggest surprise? I wonder what loyal spear carriers like Kevin McCarthy and Devin Nunes think of this? They support Trump to the point of embarrassment, but they nonetheless keep losing money for their districts thanks to Trump’s jihad against California Democrats. Or maybe they don’t. Has anyone checked? When Trump screws over California, is he careful to make sure that Republican districts don’t take a big hit?

    UPDATE: I read the spreadsheet wrong. I’m not sure what California’s share is anymore, so ignore this. I need to recalculate based on all fiscal years and including only spending within the United States. I’ll do this eventually.

    I think it would be interesting if someone converted the Pentagon list back into a spreadsheet and then compared red and blue states to see how much punishment they’re getting. Does that sound petty? Then it’s petty. I’m still interested.

    UPDATE: I meant billions, not millions. Sorry about that.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    A few days ago I posted a picture of our local butterfly invasion. At least, that’s what I said it was. But really, I could have just taken a blurry picture and added a few blurry white streaks to it. How would you know? But the butterflies were so intent on migrating that none of them stopped so I could get a better picture.

    As it turned out, the butterflies kept on coming. However, it looks like we’re finally at the tail end of things, and apparently the stragglers are either tired or confused or hungry. Or, maybe the daisy patch I found yesterday was just too entrancing to pass up. Either way, the Painted Ladies decided to rest for a bit on the daisies, and I was able to get some very nice pictures of them. The first photo shows the coloring and marking on the top of their wings. The second photo shows the markings on the underside of their wings.

    March 17, 2019 — Irvine, California
    March 17, 2019 — Irvine, California
  • Hooray for the Dot Plot!

    The Wall Street Journal reports today that Fed officials are increasingly nervous about the “dot plot” they release periodically. The dot plot shows how each member of the FOMC projects interest rates over the next few years, with one dot for each member. Here’s a Bloomberg version of the dot plot:

    Back in 2014, as you can see, projections were all over the place. They ranged from a 2016 projection of 1.5 percent to a projection of 4.25 percent. Today, however, there’s quite a bit more agreement. The projections for 2019 range only from 2.4 percent to 3.1 percent. The “longer term” projections average around 3 percent, a full percentage point lower than the average FOMC projection back in 2014.

    Which isn’t bad, really. A miss of one percentage point over the course of five years is hardly a terrible track record.

    But that’s not what anyone cares about. Rather, it appears that the most recent dot plot, released in December, has “rattled” some investors. Why? Because it continues to suggest there could be further rate increases this year even though “top Fed leaders” have “signaled” that rates are on hold. “The dot plot to be released Wednesday would muddy this message if it showed several officials still expect to raise rates this year. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell appeared to pre-emptively play down the projections in a recent speech.”

    Needless to say, this is not a problem with the dot plot, which is perfectly comprehensible. It’s a problem with the actual opinions of FOMC members, some of whom may not agree with their top leaders. In fact, it sounds like that’s the real problem here: not that the dot plot is too confusing, but that it’s too transparent. If there are several FOMC members who think interest rates should or will go up, the dot plot makes that crystal clear. There’s no way to hide it using fuzzy language the way they do in their press releases.

    So hooray for the dot plot. It is raw data in its rawest form: easy to read and easy to interpret. Leave it alone.

  • “Senior US Officials” Hate It When the Public Knows What They Know

    Airbus via the Center for Strategic and International Studies

    Please break out your tiny violins for Trump officials who hate the fact that “unofficial” reports of North Korea’s missile activity are showing up in their newspapers:

    Senior U.S. officials involved in the negotiations with North Korea can barely contain their disdain for the unofficial analysis, viewing it as overly pessimistic and potentially disruptive to their efforts.

    “The tendency to reach these snap conclusions is, in my view, a little bit hasty,” Stephen Biegun, the special U.S. envoy for North Korea, said at a Washington conference Monday….John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor, similarly dismissed recent overhead images showing rail cars and other activity at Sanumdong, a facility near Pyongyang where North Korea has assembled some of its intercontinental ballistic missiles and satellite-launching rockets.

    ….No one suggests the analysts are endangering national security. But evidence that Kim’s government is continuing its missile and nuclear weapons development deepens questions about whether Trump is engaged in a fruitless diplomatic initiative….U.S. intelligence agencies that study the reclusive North Korean government use communication intercepts, defector reports, reconnaissance flights and other sources. Sophisticated spy satellites transmit classified images said to be substantially more detailed than those publicly available.
    That enables them to keep surveillance on dozens of sites where Kim’s government is believed to be working on nuclear weapons or long-range missile components.

    Well boo hoo. Trump’s idiotic negotiations with North Korea are about as public as anything could possibly be. Hell, Henry VIII would be jealous of Trump’s prowess at personal promotion. So of course Trump doesn’t want to see evidence on his TV showing just how idiotic his love affair with Kim Jong Un is. That’s why analysis from all these disdainful intelligence officials is kept far, far away from public view. It’s because it embarrasses the president, not because it’s wrong or because it endangers national security.

    Look, we all know that even if intelligence agencies are doing their best to provide honest analysis, Trump routinely refuses to listen to them. But he does listen to Fox & Friends every morning. So if you want to force him to face reality, your only hope is to plaster it all over the media, which Trump does listen to. Quit bellyaching.

  • Hate Crimes Are More Important Than a Few Rich Kids Getting Into Harvard

    David Leonhardt:

    The president of the United States suggested last week that his political supporters might resort to violence if they didn’t get their way. The statement didn’t even get that much attention. I’m guessing you heard a lot more about the college-admissions scandal than about the president’s threat of extralegal violence.

    Thanks, David! This allows me to complain about my two pet peeves from last week. First, the unbelievable amount of attention paid to a tiny little college admissions scandal. We still don’t know how many people were involved, but at appears to be something like 0.01 percent of the entering freshman class of America’s most elite universities. This is a rounding error, and it’s for a scandal that only affects about 5 or 6 percent of American families in the first place. What’s more, it’s just standard issue cheating, not even a symptom of some new or systemic problem. It deserved a few column inches on A7, not flood-the-zone coverage everywhere we looked.

    And then there’s the president of the United States coyly suggesting that he has “tough” supporters who might—wink wink—get even tougher under the right circumstances. Sure, it’s just Donald Trump acting like his usual asshole self. But still. Doesn’t this deserve a few front-page stories? I mean, maybe it’s just a coincidence that hate crimes suddenly spiked as soon as Trump became president. But then again, maybe it’s not.