• Lunchtime Photo

    When I first looked at this picture after transferring it to my PC, I couldn’t figure out what it was. What were those two odd buildings in the distance? I didn’t recognize them at all

    Then I zoomed in a bit and realized they weren’t buildings at all. They’re oil tankers moored off the coast with the northern end of Catalina Island in the distance. How about that?

    March 29, 2019 — Orange, California
  • Trump’s Tariffs Are a Huge Middle-Class Tax Increase

    Robert VerBruggen reacts to CBO’s calculation that Donald Trump’s tariffs will reduce average earnings by 0.4 percent:

    The median household income is roughly $60,000, so crude back-of-the-envelope math puts the typical cost somewhere around $240 per year. This is consistent with a lot of other work: The trade war isn’t exactly devastating to the average American family’s budget, but the costs add up over time.

    Not quite: you have to add in the effect of higher prices for consumers thanks to retaliatory tariffs. CBO doesn’t estimate this for some reason, but it probably roughly doubles the impact on households. At a guess, CBO is estimating that tariffs will cost the average American household about $500 per year.

    For comparison, the median American household pays about $2,000 in federal income taxes. Trump’s tariffs may be invisible to most people, but they’re still the equivalent of a 25 percent income tax increase. I’m pretty sure no conservative would ever describe this as “isn’t exactly devastating.”

  • 24 Hours of Donald Trump

    White House/ZUMA

    Over the last 24 hours Donald Trump has:

    • Accused Jews who support Democrats of being disloyal.
    • Explained that Kashmir is a difficult problem because “You have Hindus and you have the Muslims and I wouldn’t say they get along so great.”
    • Canceled a state visit to Denmark because they declined to discuss the sale of Greenland.
    • Thanked a nutcase conspiracy theorist who said that Israeli Jews “love him like he is the second coming of God.”
    • Told reporters “I am the chosen one” to take on China.
    • Said the prime minister of Denmark was “nasty” about his proposal to buy Greenland and he’s not going to let her talk to him that way.
    • Confirmed his disloyalty remark: “If you vote for a Democrat, you’re being disloyal to the Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.”

    This is not the behavior of a man in control of his faculties. It’s just not.

  • Income Tax Receipts Fell 2.6% Last Year

    A reader draws my attention to a piece from Yahoo News about personal income tax payments last year:

    Despite the majority of Americans receiving a tax cut, the IRS pulled in an additional $93 billion for 2018 from taxpayers on individual income taxes than it did for 2017, according to new data from the IRS. This is in part thanks to the Treasury Department processing 1.5% more individual returns for 2018 than 2017.

    Huh. Did the Republican tax cut really produce more revenue? The Yahoo News reporter comes close to explaining what happened by noting that there were more returns in 2018 than 2017. As you might guess, this happens every year as the US population increases. So let’s take a look at personal income tax receipts adjusted for inflation and population growth:

    In reality, income tax receipts were down 2.6 percent in 2018 compared to 2017. What this means, unsurprisingly, is that when you cut tax rates you get less revenue.

    When you fail to account for things like inflation and population growth, nearly every year is an “all-time high.” But that’s meaningless. Someday our nation’s press is going to stop producing innumerate pieces on the economy and learn how to do simple adjustments that tell the real story of what’s going on. But that day is not yet.

  • Donald Trump Is Not Well

    Kevin Drum

    Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark said today that talk of selling Greenland to the US was an “absurd discussion,” adding that Greenland Premier “Kim Kielsen has of course made it clear that Greenland is not for sale. That’s where the conversation ends.” Donald Trump responded by canceling his upcoming visit to Copenhagen:


    Can we finally start talking publicly about Trump’s mental state? This is the action of a child, not an adult in full control of his faculties. Everyone aside from Trump understood that his Greenland compulsion was a sign of cognitive regression in the first place, and this episode demonstrates that it was no passing fantasy. Trump took it seriously enough to treat Frederiksen’s comments as just another incitement to a feud with a political enemy.

    The man is not well. I don’t care what you want to call his condition, but he’s not well. I can only shiver at the thought of what the folks who work regularly with Trump really think of him these days.

  • Volcker Rule Shredded By Trump Appointees

    You remember the Volcker Rule, don’t you? It was the brainchild of former Fed chair Paul Volcker, who wanted to prohibit banks from proprietary trading—that is, betting their own money on risky investments. Volcker figured that prop trading should be done by hedge funds and investment banks, not by regulated commercial banks using house money with an implicit government guarantee.

    Well, say sayonara:

    The FDIC and four other independent agencies have dropped their proposal to tie the rule to a strict accounting standard — a move that banks argued would have made it more burdensome by subjecting additional trades to heightened supervision. Instead, regulators will give banks the benefit of the doubt on a much wider range of trades, according to the text of the final rule.

    ….The inclusion of the accounting provision in the original Volcker 2.0 proposal had been key in securing the support of Martin Gruenberg, then FDIC chairman and now a regular board member at the agency. Gruenberg, an Obama appointee, voted against the revised rule Tuesday morning, saying it would “effectively undo” the Volcker rule’s ban on proprietary trading. As amended, “the Volcker rule will no longer impose a meaningful constraint on speculative and proprietary trading by banks and bank-holding companies benefiting from the public safety net” of insured deposits, Gruenberg said.

    What could go wrong?

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Here’s a lovely image from Sumapaz National Park in Colombia. The flower, if I’ve identified it correctly, is Arcytophyllum nitidum. In California, every wildflower you can imagine seems to have been given a common name, but several of the ones I photographed in Colombia apparently don’t have them, this one included.

    Generally speaking, the flora in Colombia looked pretty familiar to a Southern California native. A. nitidum, however, is found only in Colombia and Venezuela.

    August 8, 2019 — Sumapaz National Park, Colombia
  • Conservative Report on Facebook Provides No Information At All

    Carsten Rehder/DPA via ZUMA

    Sen. Jon Kyl released his interim report today on whether Facebook is biased against conservatives. Ali Breland and Pema Levy describe it here, summing it up with, “Kyl’s report did not find any evidence of conservative bias at Facebook.”

    OK, sure, but there has to be more than that. I mean, what did he find? So I went over and read it for myself. And the answer, almost literally, is that he found nothing. In fact, he didn’t even look. All he did was talk to a bunch of conservatives to find out what they thought Facebook might be doing to them. As a public service, I’ll provide this abridged version:

    In January 2018, Facebook changed its content ranking algorithm to favor content that a given user’s friends and family comment on and share, as well as news from broadly trusted sources. Several interviewees believed that this change disproportionately decreased the reach of conservative news content….Facebook has made a concerted effort to de-prioritize clickbait and spam. Interviewees generally supported this goal, but found Facebook’s policies for doing so too opaque….Interviewees expressed significant concerns about Facebook’s efforts to combat what the company refers to as “false news.” In particular, interviewees pointed to examples of instances when some of the third-party fact-checkers utilized by Facebook at various times…have skewed to the ideological Left.

    ….Interviewees’ concerns stemmed both from the notion of having a “hate speech” policy in the first place and from unfair labeling of certain speech as “hate speech.”…Interviewees frequently expressed concern over Facebook’s perceived reliance on the Southern Poverty Law Center (“SPLC”) and other left-leaning organizations to identify hate groups….Interviewees believed that other aspects of Facebook’s Community Standards also disproportionately affect conservative content.

    ….Some interviewees provided specific examples of instances in which they believed Facebook unfairly removed or downgraded content or Pages because they were conservative…Interviewees were concerned that conservative ad content is disproportionately removed or rejected as compared to liberal content and described a general lack of transparency with respect to why Facebook removes or rejects certain ads.

    So that’s it. A bunch of conservatives repeated standard conservative talking points about how they’ve been treated unfairly but provided no evidence that they had actually been treated unfairly. Nor was it part of Kyl’s remit to check this out independently or to compare it to the way liberals and independents are treated. There is literally nothing here.

  • Are Boys Getting Dumber While Girls Get Smarter?

    A new study has been published with some startling news: pregnant mothers who drink fluoridated water have babies with lower IQs. More accurately, they have baby boys with lower IQs. But if they have a girl, their baby will have a higher IQ. Here’s the basic table:

    A 1 milligram increase in maternal urinary fluoride levels was associated with a decrease of 4.49 IQ points in boys and an increase of 2.40 IQ points in girls. This seems implausibly large, doesn’t it? But I can think of at least one crude way to check it. In 1950 virtually no water in the US was fluoridated. Today, fluoridated water reaches more than 70 percent of the population. At a minimum, this suggests that over the last 70 years the IQ levels of boys and girls (a) should have gone down, and (b) should have diverged by about 7 points. Has this happened?

    In a word, no. Overall IQ scores in the United States have increased since 1950 and that steady upward trend has continued at least through 2014. And I’m unable to find any evidence that the mean scores of boys and girls has differed by more than one point or so during this entire period. Obviously lots of other things have been going on at the same time, so this doesn’t prove anything. But it sure puts a high burden on anyone claiming an IQ effect that affects boys and girls differentially by 7 points.