• Trump Mulls $10,000 Tax on Most New Cars

    Toyota Motor Corporation

    Here’s the latest deep thought from the Trump administration:

    Officials may cite national security grounds to justify a 25 percent tariff on imported vehicles, a senior administration official said….An announcement of a formal investigation into the purported need for such industrial protection could come as soon as Wednesday evening, one industry executive said.

    Wednesday evening, the White House announced that Trump had directed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to consider launching a formal investigation of the possible need for such industrial protection. Eighteen minutes later, Ross said he had done so. “Core industries such as automobiles and automotive parts are critical to our strength as a Nation,” the president said.

    What’s next? A national security exemption for avocados and bell peppers? Pharmaceuticals? Diamonds? With the process now in hand, it shouldn’t take Ross more than ten minutes each to declare them a key military requirement.

    Anyway, this is not going to happen. Can you imagine the howls from Trump’s rich voter base when they suddenly have to pay more for their BMWs, Porsches, and Jaguars? I’m reminded of this famous presentation from Ross a couple of months ago defending the new tariffs on steel and aluminum:

    The price of a can of Campbell’s soup would only go up six-tenths of a cent! But what’s he going to do now? Haul in a Porsche on a crane and declare that a 25 percent tariff would only raise its price by a paltry $30,000? And what about the other end of the Trump base? They’re going to have to shell out an extra $10,000 for their Toyota Tundras and Nissan Armadas. That’ll do wonders for Republicans in the upcoming midterms.

    So it’s not going to happen, and everyone knows it’s not going to happen. What possible negotiating benefit can this provide? It’s like trying to bluff on a low pair while your cards are laying up on the table. As usual with Trump, this is just another mysterious emanation from deep within his lizard brain. Nobody knows what it really means.

  • We Don’t have a Retirement Crisis. We Have a Young People Crisis.

    The St. Louis Fed published a short note today comparing the net worth of millennials in 2016 vs. Gen Xers in 2001. Here it is:

    Today’s millennials have fewer assets and more debt, and their net worth is therefore considerably lower than Gen Xers at the same age. That’s bad, but let’s make it worse. Here’s a chart from the same data that shows net worth over time:¹

    This is median net worth, and it’s practically zero for young households. That’s not really a surprise: people tend to take on lots of debt when they’re young and they haven’t had the time or the income to build up much in the way of assets.

    The real problem is that it’s gone down from $15,000 to $11,000 over the past 25 years. Conversely, the median net worth of retirees has gone up from $145,000 to $224,000. That’s a 17 percent drop vs. a 55 percent gain.

    This is one among many reasons that I keep harping on the proposition that liberals should stop obsessing over the “retirement crisis.” There are two very specific problems with retirement, and those are worth addressing.² But as a general proposition, there just isn’t a retirement crisis. You can calculate it any way you want, but unless you torture the data into a pretzel, most retirees today are pretty well off. Their 401(k)s don’t allow them to live on yachts, but old-school private pensions didn’t either.

    So retirees are basically fine, and will probably be more than fine in the future. It’s younger generations that are in trouble and that’s who we should be laser-focused on. The reason for obsessing over retirees, I think, is that our two big retiree programs are Democratic creations and liberals are proud of them. They’re also pretty easy to identify and improve. But that’s like looking for your lost keys where the light is good. It’s not nearly as easy to identify concrete ways to help young families, so we tend to mumble and tap dance around them. That’s lousy policy and lousy politics.

    It might be harder, but we should be looking at ways to help young families with at least the same intensity that we bring to Social Security and Medicare. Instead of allowing kids to stay on their parents’ health policies until age 26, how about just offering them free Medicare until they’re 30?³ Not everyone has parents with health insurance, after all. Free public college of all kinds is a good idea too, even though it’s difficult since this stuff is all done at the state level. But if we do it, our main focus should be on trade schools and community college, not 4-year universities. Or how about a rent subsidy? Maybe the feds offer to pay a percentage of your rent: say, 20 percent at age 20 sliding down to zero at age 30? Or an income subsidy that works the same way?

    I’m just tossing stuff out here. They might be bad ideas. But if we want to help the people who really need help, we should focus on non-college-educated young people. They’re the real forgotten demographic. They’re also the ones who we badger about not voting. So let’s give them a reason to vote.

    ¹In case you’re interested, it’s Table 4 in the 2016-dollars version of the Public Data spreadsheet.

    ²The first problem is the meager income of the lower third of retirees who depend solely on Social Security. Their benefits should be increased by about a third. The second is long-term nursing care. A one-year stay in a nursing home—which is not uncommon—can easily wipe out the retirement savings of a middle-class family. This should be covered by Medicare.

    ³This is also a not-especially-sneaky way of moving in the direction of Medicare for all.

  • Stop It. Stefan Halper Wasn’t Spying on Trump

    Why is Donald Trump using the word SPY every ten minutes or so even though there’s zero evidence that Stefan Halper was spying in any normal definition of the word? A friend of Trump explains:

    Trump told one ally this week that he wanted “to brand” the informant a “spy,” believing the more nefarious term would resonate more in the media and with the public. He went on to debut the term “Spygate” on Wednesday, despite its previous associations with a 2007 NFL scandal over videotaping coaches.

    I’m pretty sure we all knew this, didn’t we? Just like his use of wiretap last year. But it will achieve its purpose. Conservative media now has its marching orders, and soon enough the rest of the media will follow up with thumbsuckers titled “When Is a Spy Not a Spy?” or “The Spy Who Wasn’t” or “Stop It. Stefan Halper Wasn’t Spying on Trump.” Plus there will be 2,000-word explainers galore from national security reporters about how professionals use the word spy and why Trump is wrong to use it.

    And that’s fine. All that matters to Trump is that it gets lots of play. Why, this post has already repeated the word spy nine time. Oops. Ten times. It’ll be about ten thousand before this is over, and that’s all most of the public will remember about it.

  • Even By Crazytown Rules, North Korea Isn’t Making Sense

    Yonhap News/Newscom via ZUMA

    The latest:

    On the one hand, this is exactly how North Korea operates, so it’s not much of a surprise. On the other hand, what’s the point of all this? The summit was North Korea’s idea in the first place. Why offer a summit, have it accepted, and then play hard-to-get? What would North Korea get out of having the summit canceled?

    Is this just ordinary expectation lowering? Or an effort to humiliate Trump a little bit beforehand in order to soften him up? Given their behavior so far, what do we think North Korea is hoping to get out of all this? Can some Korea experts please chime in?

  • Racism Is Worse Than Anti-Racism. Why Is This So Hard?

    Aaron Schlossberg hiding from the press behind his now infamous umbrella.

    Over at National Review, Dan McLaughlin writes about Aaron Schlossberg, the New York lawyer caught on video multiple times screaming racial epithets at people:

    Naturally Schlossberg lit up Twitter and also provoked plenty of real-life protests. McLaughlin compares this public act of shaming to The Scarlet Letter, and sure, whatever. He also agrees that Schlossberg is a horrible person, with only the reasonable caveat that “it’s fair to ask — just as Hawthorne implicitly asked — how far we should go, and how indelibly the stain should endure.” So far, so good. But after all this throat clearing, he ends with this:

    What is striking is the fact that the sorts of people most eager to exact punishment on Schlossberg are precisely the same folks who would lecture us no end about how terrible it is to be morally judgmental and how backward the world of the Puritans was. What we see today in the moral furies over racism is that the human need to enforce social norms against sin remains, and still extends beyond just the letter of the law. People who say they don’t want to judge sin invariably just want to judge different sins. They may denounce moralizers for hypocrisy in being against sin without being sinless, but theirs is the true hypocrisy. We have always needed moralizers, we have always wanted to be moralizers, and we always will.

    This is a great example of how conservatives too often write about race: There always has to be a “but” that’s the real point of the piece. In this case, it’s liberals who are supposedly hypocrites because they condemn racism but don’t condemn every other form of human behavior that some people dislike. Why this is hypocrisy is beyond me, unless you literally think we should never pass judgment on anything—except racism. I’m not aware of anyone like that, though.

    So what we’re left with is: humans all condemn certain behaviors; those behaviors depend on culture, era, and personal beliefs; and racism is bad. But even though McLaughlin is no ultra, he still can’t condemn an egregious act of racism and just leave it at that. Why not? Why does the real sin of racism always have to be the fact that liberals point it out and condemn it?

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Today’s photo was taken near sunset in the Angeles National Forest. When I first saw it on the computer when I got home, I didn’t care all that much for it. In fact, I almost didn’t bother saving it. But I did, and ever since it’s been sitting in the lunchtime queue, where I see it every day.

    The black blob running across the top is cloud cover. It never rained that day, but the clouds were threatening and dark most of the time, and got even darker toward dusk. The result is a thin band of orange sunset, and that’s what either makes or breaks the picture. At first I disliked it, but that single patch of color grew on me the more I looked at it. Obviously, your mileage may vary, but it’s become one of my favorites. It works better at a larger size, but the blog is 630 pixels wide, so that’s what you get.

    March 24, 2018 — Angeles National Forest, California
  • Fentanyl Could Produce Big Changes in the Illicit Drug Trade

    Kris Grogan/Planet Pix via ZUMA

    I’ve been vaguely wondering for a while if fentanyl will upend the market for heroin, cocaine, and other opioids. Fentanyl is not only super powerful, but you can make it in a lab, like meth, which means it should be pretty attractive to both users and sellers. Keith Humphreys agrees:

    Opium poppy-sourced drugs depend on control of arable land in countries where law enforcement is a minimal or at least corruptible presence. Plant-based opium production also requires a substantial number of agricultural worker….Even if old-line agriculturally based producers shift some of their opioid business to fentanyl, as have a few Mexican cartels, they find themselves in a weaker position because they no longer gain the political capital they once did from providing plentiful drug-production jobs to local residents.

    Transnational criminal organizations with smuggling expertise are also being financially squeezed by fentanyl….Fentanyl, being enormously more potent per gram, is so compact that people with no particular smuggling expertise can ship it overseas in a regular-size piece of mail with little chance of it being detected.

    ….If synthetic drugs become dominant, the United States and other consuming nations will no longer be concerned about developing-world drug crops, removing a burr from under the saddle of international relationships and potentially weakening insurgencies abroad at the same time.

    Well, that’s interesting. But fentanyl has been around for a long time, and only recently has its use become widespread. Why? Is it hard to make outside an industrial lab? Is it just too dangerous? A few grains can be deadly, after all. Is there more here than meets the eye?

    I don’t know. But if you’re interested in a little ground-level perspective, read “The Walter White of Wichita,” by Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster. It’s about the guy who started the first fentanyl epidemic in the early 90s.

  • Chart of the Day: Women are Taking Over the Democratic Party

    Here’s a fascinating chart from NBC News:

    NBC News

    The two parties were pretty even until 1990, when Democrats started a steady rise in the number of women who ran for a seat in Congress. This opened up a wide gap against Republicans.

    Then came Donald Trump and women responded in huge numbers. The number of women running for office skyrocketed, nearly reaching parity with men. Meanwhile, Republicans saw a noticeable decrease in the number of women.

    The gender gap between Democrats and Republicans has always been around, but if this chart is telling us anything, it got way bigger when the groper-in-chief took up residence in the Oval Office. That’s not really surprising, but the size of the Democratic response is.

    Republicans have now lost not just nonwhites, and not just the young, but women as well. All they’ve got left are white men over 30. They’re managing to do pretty well with them so far, but how long can they keep it up?

  • Today We Have a Showdown Between Benadryl and the Evil Dex

    This should be fun. As instructed, I took the evil dex two hours before coming in to the infusion center. Now I’m here, and it turns out they have to push some Benadryl into me before they start the chemo itself. So I’ve got dex fighting to keep me awake and Benadryl fighting to make me drowsy. Exciting! Which drug will win?

  • Housekeeping Update

    Today I start my second round of chemotherapy. The big difference this time around is a new drug—Darzalex—which takes way longer to infuse than the drug from the 2014 round of chemo. As a result, my weekly sessions are scheduled to last seven hours starting at 8:30 am.

    But! The medical center has plenty of electricity and plenty of WiFi, and I have plenty of portable technology. So I intend to blog my way through the whole thing. It may be a little slower than normal, since I’ll have to use the cursed virtual keyboard instead of my beloved clicky Das Keyboard, but them’s the breaks. With any luck, I’ll be back online in an hour or so, right after they’ve finished poking and prodding me and connecting me to a machine that goes beep.