Skynet is coming– for our coal

Damn the stupid rubes who fall for this Donald Trump stuff.  We’re going to Make America Great Again by investing in a fuel source that is basically no longer economically competitive and is super polluting  Yeah, that’s the ticket.  Here’s the NYT:

Mr. Trump advertised the moves as a way to decrease the nation’s dependence on imported fuels and revive the flagging coal industry.

“We’re ending the theft of American prosperity and reviving our beloved economy,” Mr. Trump said. “The miners told me about the attacks on their jobs. I made them this promise. We will put our miners back to work.”

But energy economists say the order falls short of both of those goals — in part because the United States already largely relies on domestic sources for the coal and natural gas that fires most of the nation’s power plants.

“We don’t import coal,” said Robert N. Stavins, an energy economist at Harvard University. “So in terms of the Clean Power Plan, this has nothing to do with so-called energy independence whatsoever.”

Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator, said in an interview on ABC News on Sunday that the order will help the United States “be both pro-jobs and pro-environment.”

Oh, God, among other things I just love how Pruitt calls this pro-environment.  Damn, Orwell had nothing on these guys.  Oh, and this:

But coal miners should not assume their jobs will return if Mr. Trump’s regulations take effect.

The new order would mean that older coal plants that had been marked for closing would probably stay open for a few years longer, extending the demand for coal, said Robert W. Godby, an energy economist at the University of Wyoming.

But even so, “the mines that are staying open are using more mechanization,” he said.

“They’re not hiring people,” he continued.

“So even if we saw an increase in coal production, we could see a decrease in coal jobs,” he added.

Anyway, it all nicely boils down to this:

And though the percentage of coal mining jobs dropped sharply, economists said that was not driven by the Clean Power Plan. Rather, they blamed two key forces: an increase in the production of natural gas, which is a cheaper, cleaner-burning alternative to coal, and an increase in automation, which allowed coal companies to produce more fuel with fewer employees. The rollback of Mr. Obama’s regulations will not change either of those forces, economists say.

But, hey, who cares what stupid economists think they know, when Trump can fix it!  And MAGA.

As my favorite tweet on election night said (can’t find it), that robot is not giving you your job back.  We need to be smart about addressing this as a society.  Pretending that it’s not a real dynamic gets us nowhere.  Of course, this current administration pretends about pretty much everything.  Relatedly, nice Upshot piece on how robots are winning the race for American jobs.

And a good take on just how dumb this is from Chait:

To see the vacuousness of Trump’s proposal, you don’t need to go any farther than its name: the Energy Independence Executive Order. It would make sense if Trump were proposing to replace imported energy with domestic sources. But the entire goal of Trump’s panoply of executive orders — enabling more oil and gas development and weakening regulations on carbon emissions — is to prioritize dirty domestic energy sources (oil and coal) over clean domestic energy sources (natural gas, wind and solar). Whatever reasons Trump may have to favor carbon-intensive energy sources over cleaner ones, “energy independence” has literally nothing to do with it whatsoever.

Image result for robot coal


Tax cuts are coming; tax “reform” not so much

It’s been amusing to hear about how anxious Trump and Republicans are to do “tax reform.”  Does any serious person actually believe that?  Cutting top rates for high earners and corporations is simply tax cuts.  Fiddling with a few loopholes here and there does not make it reform.  The idea that there will be– or ever was going to be– any meaningful and systematic change to the structure of our tax system under current Republican leadership is pure fantasy.

The failure of the ACA repeal makes the job harder, because now Republicans will have to increase the deficit to get their tax cuts for rich people.  I have no doubt at all they’ll do that in the end– truly, deficits only matter to Republicans under Democratic presidents– but at least their hypocrisy on such things will be 100% transparent (and thus maybe finally make it through to the journalists who cover this stuff and go along with the farce that Republicans care about deficits.  I doubt it, but I can hope).

Jim Newell with one of the best explanations I’ve seen of what’s likely to happen with taxes:

The AHCA was supposed to lower the budget baseline to give leaders about $1 trillion to work with in the tax reform package. This would have gone a long way toward making tax reform revenue-neutral—i.e., not a long-run deficit increaser—which would be a requirement in order to pass the bill with a 51-vote majority under reconciliation if the changes are to be permanent. If the tax reform package isn’t revenue-neutral, its cuts will expire after 10 years like the Bush tax cuts did. Balancing rate cuts with a simplification of the code is what would define it as “reform, and not just an enormous temporary tax cut.

Being unable to mug poor people out of $1 trillion in health care deeply complicates the already complicated tax reform math. Republicans want to slash rates for corporations and individuals (on income and investment) and eliminate the alternative minimum and estate taxes. This was always going to involve some tough decisions, and now those decisions are tougher…

House Republican leaders, meanwhile, are hoping to raise another trillion dollars or so through a border adjustment tax, the tariff-like instrument that these leaders hope will satisfy Trump’s promise to his base to stick it to those foreign countries ripping us off. The problem is that this might increase costs for a small little subset of the economy called “importers”—everyone from oil refiners to big retailers like Walmart—and another called “consumers.” In a familiar dynamic, Senate Republicans aren’t sold on it, and neither is the House Freedom Caucus.

More simply, a border adjustment tax would create winners and losers. Everything in tax reform would create winners and losers, because everyone is a part of the tax system. This is why it’s so hard…

There is, however, one possibility that could make tax reform easier than health care: ignoring the “reform” bit, and the ugly business of revenue-neutrality altogether, and just cutting taxes for 10 years instead.

There is nothing preventing Republicans from cutting taxes to whatever levels they want under reconciliation, except that these cuts can’t be permanent. The 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts were passed under reconciliation this way. The bonus for Republicans is that, in 10 years time, there’s a better-than-decent chance political pressures will favor renewing most of these cuts. Most of the Bush tax cuts, except on top earners, were ultimately renewed in 2012.

This seems like the likeliest outcome: Republicans will simply choose to cut taxes for 10 years without having to worry about the uncomfortable trade-offs (beyond worsening the country’s fiscal outlook, which is probably not one of President Trump’s or the party’s priorities, despite whatever anti-debt protestations they make under Democratic presidents). For one, House Freedom Caucus chair Rep. Mark Meadows, speaking this weekend after a fresh kill of the AHCA, said he doesn’t think tax cuts need to be offset by spending cuts.

So, there’s what you can likely expect– deficit-financed tax cuts for wealthy people masquerading as “reform.”  And then when we get a Democratic president again in 2021?  “Oh no, deficits!!!”

Even the “good” Republicans lie shamelessly

I caught a little bit of Kasich on CNN while at the gym this morning.  He was making a call for Trump to work with Democrats and be bipartisan.  Good, insofar as it goes.  Kasich seems to be many Democrats favorite Republican these days since he seems to genuinely care about poor people having health care and appears moderate when compared to the Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio’s of the world.  Anyway, what was frustrating was just how dishonest he was in the comments I saw.  He said that Republicans had to be different from Obama and the Democrats in 2009 and actually be bipartisan in crafting health care legislation, rather than strictly partisan as Democrats had been.

Sure, Republicans uniformly rejected it, but Obama tried hard as hell to actually make it bipartisan (Norm Ornstein with a nice history lesson here).  Kasich surely knows this, but just can’t help himself from lying about it.  If we’re going to actually have bipartisanship– newsflash, we’re not– it would help for the “moderate” Republicans to at least be honest about the reality of Obamacare and how it came to pass.

Photo of the day

My favorite part of this NYT essay on Mt Rushmore was thinking about it in its larger geographic context.  Not sure I’ve ever seen an image of it like this:

Mount Rushmore. CreditGiles Price/Institute, for The New York Times

Media asymmetry

Columbia Journalism Review published a great study a few weeks ago on the asymmetric media use between liberals and conservatives.  Headline might as well have been,”it’s worse than you think.”  Conservatives can yell till they are blue in the face that NYT, ABC, CBS, etc., are “liberal” and that Fox News is just the conservative balance, but that doesn’t make it so.  Sure these mainstream sources project “cosmopolitan” values, but they strive (too hard, one might argue) for balance and truth in coverage.  Safe to say Fox, and especially Breitbart, do not.  They unabashedly serve a political agenda.

Anyway, CJR:

We began to study this ecosystem by looking at the landscape of what sites people share. If a person shares a link from Breitbart, is he or she more likely also to share a link from Fox News or from The New York Times? We analyzed hyperlinking patterns, social media sharing patterns on Facebook and Twitter, and topic and language patterns in the content of the 1.25 million stories, published by 25,000 sources over the course of the election, using Media Cloud, an open-source platform for studying media ecosystems developed by Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and MIT’s Center for Civic Media.

When we map media sources this way, we see that Breitbart became the center of a distinct right-wing media ecosystem, surrounded by Fox News, the Daily Caller, the Gateway Pundit, the Washington Examiner, Infowars, Conservative Treehouse, and Truthfeed.

And a nice explanation of the asymmetry:

Our analysis challenges a simple narrative that the internet as a technology is what fragments public discourse and polarizes opinions, by allowing us to inhabit filter bubbles or just read “the daily me.” If technology were the most important driver towards a “post-truth” world, we would expect to see symmetric patterns on the left and the right. Instead, different internal political dynamics in the right and the left led to different patterns in the reception and use of the technology by each wing. While Facebook and Twitter certainly enabled right-wing media to circumvent the gatekeeping power of traditional media, the pattern was not symmetric.

The size of the nodes marking traditional professional media like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN, surrounded by the Hill, ABC, and NBC, tell us that these media drew particularly large audiences. Their color tells us that Clinton followers attended to them more than Trump followers, and their proximity on the map to more quintessentially partisan sites—like Huffington Post, MSNBC, or the Daily Beast—suggests that attention to these more partisan outlets on the left was more tightly interwoven with attention to traditional media. The Breitbart-centered wing, by contrast, is farther from the mainstream set and lacks bridging nodes that draw attention and connect it to that mainstream. [emphasis mine]

What we find in our data is a network of mutually-reinforcing hyper-partisan sites that revive what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics,” combining decontextualized truths, repeated falsehoods, and leaps of logic to create a fundamentally misleading view of the world. “Fake news,” which implies made of whole cloth by politically disinterested parties out to make a buck of Facebook advertising dollars, rather than propaganda and disinformation, is not an adequate term. By repetition, variation, and circulation through many associated sites, the network of sites make their claims familiar to readers, and this fluency with the core narrative gives credence to the incredible.

Anyway, lots more good stuff to read in the full report, and well worth your time.  Short version: I suppose it’s nice for liberals to be able to say: look conservatives really are nuts and get way too much information from a media ecosystem that has only a passing relationship with the truth.  Alas, the threat this clearly creates (and has created) for a properly functioning democracy is serious indeed.

Photo of the day

This is just the photo from Douthat’s column in the NYT today, but I love how most of the photo is in darkness but the tops of skyscrapers are still catching the sun.

New York City, March 23, 2017. CreditGary Hershorn/Getty Images

Quick hits (part II)

1) This David Roberts piece on Trump and tribalism in modern politics is so good its worth at least 3 blog posts.  Instead, it’s only part of a quick hits.  So just trust me and read it.

2) Pretty soon, you might be able to do your own sperm counts on your smartphone!  Weird and cool all at once.

3) Meanwhile, as Zack Beauchamp put it, “The FBI probe into Trump and Russia is huge news. Our political system isn’t ready for it.”  I think he’s right.  I also think we keep running out of news oxygen under Trump.

4) As tempting as it may be to have your child be your confidant, it’s not really fair to them.

5) A recent Gallup poll on personal financial well-being.  Damn, partisanship is everything:

More Republicans, Fewer Democrats Feel Good About Their Money

6) Really like this Kristof column about Trump and Russia for calling out Nixon:

The greatest political scandal in American history was not Aaron Burr’s shooting of Alexander Hamilton, and perhaps wasn’t even Watergate. Rather it may have been Richard Nixon’s secret efforts in 1968 to sabotage a U.S. diplomatic effort to end the Vietnam War.

Nixon’s initiative, long rumored but confirmed only a few months ago, was meant to improve his election chances that year. After Nixon won, the war dragged on and cost thousands of additional American and Vietnamese lives; it’s hard to see his behavior as anything but treason.

7) Some encouraging evidence from an NCSU study that teaching critical thinking can reduce beliefs in pseudoscience.

8) Does the Premier League emphasis on entertaining soccer hurt them in more boring Champions League competitions?  Maybe.  Personally, I’ll sure take the trade as a viewer.

9) Never been a big fan of Jim Harbaugh.  Now I am.

10) Excellent Ezra take on the health care debate we should be having.  But, of course, are not.  (Not sure if I’ve already linked that one or not this week, with all the health care stuff going on.  Short version: if you haven’t read it, do).

11) Jamelle Bouie:

Indeed, it’s hard to overstate the scope of this disaster. Social policy of this scale is a massive undertaking. It requires broad consensus, policy expertise, clear White House direction, and strong congressional leadership. And even then, failure is always on the horizon. It took Democrats more than a year—and countless crises and complications—to craft and pass the ACA. What we’ve seen, over the past month, is that none of these ingredients exist among the present batch of Republican leaders in Washington. The Republican Party has no vision for health policy reform, no mutually agreed set of goals or principles. Instead, it has seven years of anti-Obamacare demagoguery. At the same time, President Trump’s ignorance—and overall disinterest in the business of policy—means his White House has little to negotiate or bring to the table. Paul Ryan’s inexperience as a congressional leader means he can’t corral members for difficult votes. And beyond problems of leadership, the fact that Trump and Ryan would essentially play games with 18 percent of the economy makes it clear that the Republican Party is unprepared for the responsibility of governance.

12) A day in the life of Fox News.  Short version: it’s disgusting.  E.g.,

One notable way Fox News stood apart from its competition, as it has been known to do for years, was in the stories it chose to highlight and the tone — in some of its opinion shows, unapologetically supportive of Mr. Trump and his agenda — with which it covered them.

There was extensive coverage of the health care vote, for example, but there was also considerable time given to topics, like a rape case in Maryland, that viewers would not have heard about if they had turned to CNN or MSNBC. The rape case, which involved an undocumented immigrant and went virtually uncovered on most networks, received almost hourly updates on Fox, and at times was used as proof that Mr. Trump’s calls for tighter borders and a crackdown on immigration were justified…

And while other networks were devoting time to the apology made by Representative Devin Nunes of California, the Republican chairman of the House committee investigating Russian interference in the election, for not sharing information about intelligence with the committee’s top Democrat before giving it to Mr. Trump, Fox was touting a report about “potential” evidence that Mr. Trump’s team may indeed have been surveilled by the Obama administration. It was presented as vindication of Mr. Trump’s earlier assertions that his phones had been wiretapped.

 13) I agree– it’s ridiculous to judge the quality of a college basketball conference by two weeks in March.

14) Not at all surprisingly, before popping pills for GERD, people should exercise and eat a healthy diet.

15) Krugman accurately predicted the failure of “replace” back in January due to the inexorable logic of the three-legged stool of Obamacare:

Here’s how I put it exactly 7 years ago:

Start with the proposition that we don’t want our fellow citizens denied coverage because of preexisting conditions — which is a very popular position, so much so that even conservatives generally share it, or at least pretend to.

So why not just impose community rating — no discrimination based on medical history?

Well, the answer, backed up by lots of real-world experience, is that this leads to an adverse-selection death spiral: healthy people choose to go uninsured until they get sick, leading to a poor risk pool, leading to high premiums, leading even more healthy people dropping out.

So you have to back community rating up with an individual mandate: people must be required to purchase insurance even if they don’t currently think they need it.

But what if they can’t afford insurance? Well, you have to have subsidies that cover part of premiums for lower-income Americans.

In short, you end up with the health care bill that’s about to get enacted. There’s hardly anything arbitrary about the structure: once the decision was made to rely on private insurers rather than a single-payer system — and look, single-payer wasn’t going to happen — it had to be more or less what we’re getting. It wasn’t about ideology, or greediness, it was about making the thing work.

It’s actually amazing how thoroughly the right turned a blind eye to this logic, and some — maybe even a majority — are still in denial.

16) Tax cuts (not reform, cuts) are going to be much harder now.  See Chait’s point #3.

17) Will Oremus on how the media is finally figuring out how to cover Trump’s lying:

It isn’t that Time, the Wall Street Journal, and others haven’t confronted Trump on specific claims. They have, of course. But they’ve failed until now to recognize that his untruths amount to something much more than a series of claims to be evaluated and debunked just as the claims of any politician must be. Trump’s reliance on dishonesty is not incidental to his character, or his appeal, or his approach to politics. It is his defining feature, shaping everything from how he talks, to the views he holds, to the way he conducts business and politics. If that sounds like an exaggeration, just go read the Time interview again and chase it with the Washington Post’s fact-check.

Trump’s lies are, and have long deserved to be, a top story in their own right. That the mainstream media have largely failed to treat them as such reveals the depth of its entrenched conventions around journalistic balance and respect for the presidency. Too many reporters and editors allow those conventions to constrain what should always be their core mission, which is to tell the public what they know to be true, no matter whom it offends or embarrasses.

The focus on Trump’s credibility may be late in coming, but it’s welcome nonetheless.

18) Of course we shouldn’t expect kids to sit still in class.  So dumb that we do.  Apparently, there’s some very cool programs to insert short movement breaks into the school day.  I think I’m going to email this to my kids’ elementary school principal.

19) Harold Pollack’s take on the Republican health care mess is another must-read:

As the conservative health-care analyst Philip Klein notes, the contrast with Obamacare couldn’t have been greater. Well before the Obama presidency, Democratic congressional leaders, interest groups and policy experts prepared the groundwork for the ACA, hammering out messy compromises, aligning House committees, working with presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama, all of whom proposed plans similar to what became the ACA. Then in 2009 and 2010, the House and Senate held dozens of hearings over the course of months, not days, and accepted more than 150 Republican amendments along the way. Learning the lessons of President Bill Clinton’s prior failed health reform effort, President Obama let Pelosi and her Senate counterpart Harry Reid take the lead, but he knew the intricacies of the legislation inside and out. Ryan and Trump threw in the towel after just 18 days.

So why did Republicans fail? In a word: insincerity. Republicans had seven years to do their own hard work, to coalesce around a credible conservative alternative to the ACA. They might have used this time to work with Republican governors, to explore which conservative policy ideas seem to stick, which aspects of ACA needed to be retained. They might have crafted a more moderate bill along the lines of the Cassidy-Collins bill, which would have given liberal states and Republican governors who adopted Medicaid expansion much greater leeway. Or they might have refined another conservative model, such as Avik Roy’s modifications to ACA exchanges, to turn ACA’s exchanges in a more conservative direction. They might have prepared the American public for whatever plan they chose…

There was a conspicuous smallness to this AHCA effort, a puzzling shoddiness given the human and political stakes. Many in the GOP, above all President Trump, seemed strangely uninterested in the policy details. To the extent Republicans did have an animating passion, it was to puncture President Obama’s legacy—and to avoid looking foolish by failing to honor their “repeal and replace” rhetoric.

Only they had no viable replacement. For all their endless warnings about how Obama’s signature health law was hurting American families, driving up costs and putting us on the path toward socialism, it turns out they didn’t care enough to put in the work.

20) Is increasing secularization making political conflict worse?  Peter Beinart makes the case.

21) Meanwhile, Sarah Posner on how Trump hijacked the religious right.

22) Super disturbing first-part of NYT series on over-militarization of the police (in form of no-knock SWAT raids).

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