The Republican Health Care Plan is Depraved, But It's Political Genius

This comes as no surprise to anybody, but here is Kaiser's analysis of tax subsidies under Obamacare vs. the House discussion draft that was leaked last week:

The difference is pretty obvious. Obamacare provides subsidies to those who need it most. The Republican plan provides subsidies to everyone, even if they're already well off.

Politically, you can see the attractiveness of the Republican plan. One of Obamacare's major failings is that its subsidies phase out too soon. The poor get Medicaid and the near-poor get generally decent subsidies, but the working class gets very little and the middle class is left out entirely. The Republican plan provides bigger subsidies for working and middle-class families, and does it by cutting subsidies for the poor.

In other words, it helps two groups who vote at high rates, and who often vote Republican.1 It hurts a group that doesn't vote much, and votes Democratic when it does. It's immoral on almost every level, but it's political genius. Luckily, thanks to the malignity of the tea party wing of the GOP, which views even this amount of government assistance as unacceptable, it will probably never see the light of day.

1The only downside is the cut in subsidies for older working-class voters, who Republicans very much care about. But I imagine that Paul Ryan can come up with some kind of hack that takes care of that.

No, Immigrants Are Not on a Crime Spree Against Native-Born Americans

Perhaps the most disgusting part of President Trump's speech last night was this:

I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims. The office is called Voice, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement....Joining us in the audience tonight are four very brave Americans whose government failed them. Their names are Jamiel Shaw, Susan Oliver, Jenna Oliver and Jessica Davis. Jamiel’s 17-year-old son was viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member who had just been released from prison. Jamiel Shaw Jr. was an incredible young man with unlimited potential who was getting ready to go to college, where he would have excelled as a great college quarterback.

But he never got the chance. His father, who is in the audience tonight, has become a very good friend of mine. Jamiel, thank you. Thank you.

This is pure demagoguery. Let's ask CIS if immigrants are more prone to crime than other groups:

We find that it would be a mistake to assume that immigrants as a group are more prone to crime than other groups, or that they should be viewed with more suspicion than others. Even though immigrant incarceration rates are high in some populations, there is no clear evidence that immigrants commit crimes at higher or lower rates than others.

CIS is the Center for Immigration Studies, one of the leading groups that opposes illegal immigration. If there were clear evidence that immigrants committed more crimes than native-born Americans, they'd be all over it. But in a long report, they conclude that the evidence is hopelessly mixed and simply doesn't support the idea that immigrants commit more crimes than anyone else.1

Unfortunately, the raw data for arrests, convictions, and incarceration doesn't include immigration status. This means you have to try to answer the question indirectly. For example, a BJS report suggests that 0.64 percent of immigrants are currently incarcerated vs. 0.51 percent of native-born Americans. But that doesn't tell you anything about the type of crime. Maybe a lot of those immigrants are in jail solely for immigration violations. Or maybe not. We don't know.

On another note, various studies have tried to correlate immigrant populations in different cities with crime rates. They've pretty consistently found that higher populations of immigrants don't correlate with higher rates of crime. As with any ecological study, though, these conclusions depend a lot on exactly what kind of model you set up, what kind of data you have, and what you control for. They're suggestive, but not conclusive.

All that said, there are lots of crime studies out there, and they come to lots of different conclusions about immigrants. But if you take them all together and look at them fair-mindedly, there's really no good reason for thinking that immigrants commit crimes at higher rates than natives. They might very well commit crimes at lower rates. They certainly have more motivation to be law-abiding than most of us.

But that doesn't mean they commit no crimes. And if you wave around enough bloody shirts, it's pretty easy to whip up hysteria about hardworking American citizens being murdered on the streets by rampaging immigrants. That's what Trump is doing, and it's vile.

1They also say this:

Nevertheless, it also would be a mistake to conclude that immigrant crime is insignificant or that offenders’ immigration status is irrelevant in local policing. The newer information available as a result of better screening of the incarcerated population suggests that, in many parts of the country, immigrants are responsible for a significant share of crime. This indicates that there are legitimate public safety reasons for local law enforcement agencies to determine the immigration status of offenders and to work with federal immigration authorities.

If they could say anything stronger, I'm sure they would. In any case, it's a pretty good report to read if you want to understand all the problems with existing data and existing studies. It's a few years old, but still provides a nice summary of a complex subject.

Inflation Is Still Well Under Control

Inflation hawks are getting excited again!

U.S. inflation is closing in on the Federal Reserve’s long elusive 2% annual target, the latest evidence of firming price pressures that could bolster the case for the central bank to raise short-term interest rates as soon as this month.

....Headline prices are “almost in line with the Fed’s 2% target” and core inflation is “gradually closing in on that target, which partly explains why Fed officials appear to be making the case for a March interest-rate hike,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, in a note to clients.

Almost! Just keep in mind that the Fed's preferred measure of inflation is core PCE, and "gradually closing in" on 2 percent is an understatement. In January 2015 it was 1.41 percent. In January 2016 it was 1.61 percent. In January 2017 it was 1.74 percent. At that rate, it should hit 2 percent by about 2019 or so.

There is evidence that core inflation is rising a bit, inflationary expectations are up, and wages are showing moderate gains, which means the labor market is finally starting to tighten. That said, inflation is still well controlled, one year of wage increases is hardly cause for panic, and the labor market is probably still about a million workers away from being at full capacity. Let's not get too excited yet.

Trump Once Again Covers Up His Own Failure on Yemen Raid

Watching CNN after Trump's speech, I heard Gloria Borger talk about how authentic Trump's tribute to Ryan Owens was. Here's what Trump said:

We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy special operator, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens. Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero — battling against terrorism and securing our nation.

I just spoke to General [Jim] Mattis, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, “Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.” Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity. For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country and for our freedom — we will never forget him.

This was, perhaps, the most inauthentic part of Trump's entire speech. It was there for one reason only: to exonerate his own bad judgment by insisting yet again that the Yemen raid was "highly successful."

It wasn't. It was hastily planned because Trump wanted to show that he was tougher on terrorism than Obama. Instead of going over the plan in detail in the Situation Room, he casually approved it over dinner. The raid itself was a mess, apparently because the SEAL team was detected going in. Owens was killed, a helicopter was destroyed, none of the targets were killed, and contra Mattis, it seems to have produced hardly any worthwhile intelligence at all.

Instead of taking responsibility for this, Trump has done the usual: blamed everybody else. He's implied it was Obama's fault. He's implied it was the military's fault. And when he's not doing that, he simply claims that it was a huge success and only the FAKE MEDIA says otherwise.

So naturally it became part of his speech tonight. Was his respect for Owens genuine? Of course it was. Is that why he emphasized how successful the raid was? Of course not. That was purely calculated. He was covering up his own failure with the tears of a widow, nothing more.

We're Liveblogging Trump's First Big Speech to Congress

I can't fault Trump too much for this speech. It was entirely aspirational, but I suppose you can't expect too much more after only a month in office. He mostly stuck to the prompter and kept his tone fairly level. He threw in a few whoppers, but really, not many by his standards. Anybody who disliked Trump beforehand probably still dislikes him, but my guess is that he didn't scare off very many folks in the middle who are still in "give him a chance" mode.

On the other hand, gesturing directly toward Nancy Pelosi when he ripped into the "imploding Obamacare disaster" sure wasn't designed to make him any friends among Democrats:

It's a funny thing. Trump doesn't seem to realize that Republicans can't just wave a magic wand and do anything they want. They're going to need Democratic support for most of his initiatives. But that doesn't stop him from insulting them at every turn. If this represents his crack negotiating skills, I wouldn't hold my breath for any great trade deals.

That said—and with the caveat that I faded out during his final 15 minutes—it was an OK speech. I'd give it a B or a B-.

Full transcript here.


I am keeping the old-school flame alive tonight with yet another display of liveblogging. This time, it's Donald Trump's first State of the Union address. Except it's not really a SOTU. Right? Anyway, here we go.

10:09 pm - And it's over after 60 minutes. It was pretty policy free, which is maybe understandable after only a month. But it was really nothing more than a statement of goals. You'd think maybe he could have talked a little bit about some details.

10:07 pm - Apologies. I sort of tuned out when Trump started the fearfest over immigrant crime.

9:50 pm - Trump says the murder rate increased in 2015 at highest rate in half a century. This is a brand new crime stat from Trump, but no better than his old ones. Murder was up 11% in 2015, but it was up a whole lot more in the 60s and 70s.

9:43 pm - Nancy Pelosi is not impressed when Trump points at her and demands that we get rid of the "imploding Obamacare disaster."

9:40 pm - No, Donald, the way to make health care available to everyone is not to reduce the price of insurance. It's to reduce the price of health care.

9:31 pm - Trump says American companies are the most heavily taxed in the world. I know Republicans love to say this, but it ain't true.

9:30 pm - Now it's time to blame Obama for everything wrong with America. And there's plenty wrong! However, the fact that 94 million people are out of the labor force isn't one of them, Donald.

9:28 pm - I knew this speech was going to be pretty policy free, but come on. So far it's just a slightly more decorous version of one of his rallies.

9:26 pm - We cannot allow a "beachhead of terrorism."

9:24 pm - Trump has the guts to say Radical. Islamic. Terrorism. It's about damn time. Now we'll finally get a handle on ISIS.

9:22 pm - China has a Great Wall. Trump says we'll have a Great Great Wall.

9:21 pm - Again with the billions and billions of dollars.

9:20 pm - Now he's going to wipe out the drug cartels and eliminate all the drugs pouring into the country. How? A task force, apparently.

9:18 pm - He's going to save additional billions on government contracts. Maybe. But so far his record is $0.

9:17 pm - "Billions and billions of dollars." Is this some kind of Carl Sagan riff? Does Trump realize that this is not really a lot of money for new jobs?

9:08 pm - Trump is at the lectern early! He's so punctual. Plus he didn't have to waste too much time being mobbed as he walked down the aisle.

9:06 pm - Trump is in the building.

9:04 pm - This afternoon my Twitter feed was all atwitter with a few excerpts from the speech released earlier today by the White House. Apparently Trump is going to suggest that we can cure all of our diseases if we just clap hard enough.

9:01 pm - For the record, I think it will be disgraceful if any member of Congress gets up and yells "You lie!" whenever Donald Trump lies. Which he will. You just know it. OTOH, I think it would be awesome if Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer led a chant of the entire Democratic caucus yelling "You lie!" whenever Trump lies. That would be the greatest thing ever.