Kevin's Photography Tip O' the Day

Here's a useful tip. Suppose you do something stupid and crack the body of your camera. This happened to, um, a friend of mine recently, who quickly learned that ordinary superglue is useless. It works about as well as kindergarten paste. What you need is glue that's specifically designed to work on polypropylene and similar plastics. Allow the Glue Guy to explain:1

My friend stupidly left his camera on the roof of his car before pulling out of a parking lot. What an idiot! The camera fell off at the first stop sign, producing a nasty crack in one corner. The two sides of the crack were pulling away from each other with considerable force, but this Loctite stuff worked great anyway. It wasn't especially pretty when it was done, but it's stayed solidly glued together for over a month now.

1I have not been paid for this endorsement. As far as you know, anyway.

Wednesday Was the Most Dangerous Day So Far of the Trump Presidency

By now we all know the story of President Trump's sudden U-turn on NAFTA earlier this week. But just to refresh your memories, here is the Washington Post:

“I was all set to terminate,” Trump said in an Oval Office interview Thursday night. “I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it.”...At one point, he turned to Kushner, who was standing near his desk, and asked, “Was I ready to terminate NAFTA?”

“Yeah,” Kushner said, before explaining the case he made to the president: “I said, ‘Look, there’s plusses and minuses to doing it,’ and either way he would have ended up in a good place.”

The basic story here is that Trump is a child. He was all ready to pull the trigger, but then his advisors brought in a colorful map showing that lots of red states and counties would be harmed by pulling out of NAFTA. Eventually Trump calmed down and normalcy reigned for another day.

But here's the part of the story I still don't understand: what happened on Wednesday that suddenly put a burr up Trump's ass to pull out of NAFTA? Just a few weeks ago he sent a list of negotiating points to Congress, and both Mexico and Canada have agreed the treaty needs some updating. Things were moving along fairly normally, and then suddenly Trump woke up one morning and decided to light off a nuclear bomb.

What was that all about? Was it really because of Trump's obsession over having some kind of accomplishment to show for his first hundred days? Did he eat a taco that didn't agree with him? Did Steve Bannon have a late-night talk with him?

This was the reason all along that Trump was a far more dangerous candidate than Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. From a liberal point of view, his incompetence was a bonus that might restrict the short-term damage he could do. But Trump also brought to the table a noxious racist appeal, an ugly nationalism, an appalling level of ignorance, and a mercurial temperament. All of these were on display Wednesday. Apparently out of nowhere, and for no particular reason, he just strolled into the Oval Office and decided he wanted to formally withdraw from NAFTA.

Why? And what are the odds he's going to do this again on something more important? Something that, for whatever reason, his aides can't talk him out of with a colorful map and another diet Coke?

I'm not sure everyone realizes that this is the most dangerous thing Trump has done so far. It was a close-run thing, but next time it might not be. And we still have 1,361 days left to go of Trump's presidency.

Friday Cat Blogging - 28 April 2017

Our cats' favorite activity is playing under the sheets after we strip the bed and put on freshly laundered bedclothes. Last week I stuck the camera under the sheets and snapped a few photos while the cats went nuts. Look at those eyes! Like saucers! This was taken during one of the few microseconds when Hilbert wasn't just a blur.

GDP Growth Anemic? Blame the Weather!

A reader emailed this morning suggesting that GDP growth in the first quarter was low because GDP growth in the first quarter is always low:

Something I’ve long wondered is if the seasonal adjustments BLS is making on these numbers is artificially skewing the 1Q results every year. As you recall 1Q09 was the bottom of the Great Recession, it feels like they are overcorrecting for that phenomenon. When you look at the quarterly progression of every year (minus 2015 it looks like) 1Q sucks and then you get q/q improvement during the year.

I remember having read some criticisms of BEA's seasonal adjustments, so I got curious. Is Q1 growth routinely lower than later quarters?

[NOTE: The original chart I used showed GDP growth compared to the previous year. That's not what BEA reports. The headline number is annualized growth from the previous quarter. I've revised the chart, which significantly revises the text below too.]

On average, reported first quarter growth really is considerably lower than it is in the other three quarters. Nor is this an issue of unusually high revisions from the advance print to the final print. For the past seven years, the advance number has been a little higher on average than the final revision.

FWIW, if you look at GDP compared to the previous year (i.e., Q1 of 2017 compared to Q1 of 2016 etc.), average growth rates are about the same in all four quarters. This is probably a better measure.

While we're on the subject, though, the weather is one of my favorite topics when it comes to making excuses for poor growth. Here is Nelson Schwartz in the New York Times today:

Michelle Meyer, chief United States economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said healthier business investment indicated that the overall economy was performing better than the headline numbers would suggest. “Warm weather meant consumers weren’t spending as much on electricity and natural gas and home heating,” Ms. Meyer said. “Government spending can also be affected by seasonal factors, and defense spending is especially volatile.”

Here is Nelson Schwartz in the New York Times three years ago:

In their initial estimate for growth in the months of January, February and March, government statisticians said output expanded at an annual rate of just 0.1 percent, although experts noted that figure was affected by one-time headwinds like unusually cold weather and slower inventory gains after businesses aggressively built up stockpiles in the second half of 2013.

Too hot, too cold, the weather is never just right, is it?

Presidenting Is Hard

Poor Donald Trump. Being president is harder than he thought:

"I loved my previous life. I had so many things going," Trump told Reuters in an interview. "This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier."...Midway through a discussion about Chinese President Xi Jinping, the president paused to hand out copies of what he said were the latest figures from the 2016 electoral map.

"Here, you can take that, that's the final map of the numbers," the Republican president said from his desk in the Oval Office, handing out maps of the United States with areas he won marked in red. "It’s pretty good, right? The red is obviously us."

There are three takeaways from this. First, Trump's old life was pretty easy because other people ran his companies and he didn't really do much. Second, he thought presidents just consulted their guts and made decisions, sort of like Celebrity Apprentice, and then stuff magically happened. Third, he still can't maintain discussion of a real topic (Chinese President Xi Jinping) for more than a few moments before getting sidetracked by one of his obsessions (his huge victory in November). Here are the maps he handed out. He obviously had copies made just for the occasion:

But Trump still hasn't learned his lesson. I've dealt with lots of people who will regale you endlessly with tales of how complicated their own business is, but the less they know about some other business the easier they think it is to fix. For example:

Sure, Donald. You can't even get Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon to stop squabbling, but the Middle East? Piece of cake. There's no reason to think this is a difficult problem that requires a lot of hard work. It's just that all the presidents before you have been really, really stupid.

Still, they were all bright enough to know that if you want to get things done, you need to get people who support your agenda running the bureaucracy. Trump still hasn't figured that out:

It's hard to find Republicans to work in the federal government in the first place, and harder still to find Republicans willing to work for a man-child like Trump. Even at that, though, he's barely even trying. Not counting cabinet positions, he's managed to nominate about three people per week. That's pathetic.