Scoping the Issues

Assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not within the scope of the personal right to “bear arms” under the Second Amendment.

Judge William G. Young, U.S. District of Massachusetts

This week’s featured post is “Trump’s long-term effect on American democracy: How worried should we be?

This week everybody was talking about trade

The stock market has been see-sawing several hundred points a day, as investors try to figure out where Trump’s trade dispute with China will go. Are both sides exchanging bluff and bluster in preparation for negotiating some agreement? Or is the recent back-and-forth of tariff announcements exactly what it appears to be?

The really worrisome thought is that the ignorant things Trump (and his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and trade advisor Peter Navarro) says represent the true depth of the administration’s policy. Matt Yglesias spells out what Ross and Navarro seems to believe: that the equation

GDP = Government spending + Consumer spending + Business investment – Trade Deficit

is more than just an accounting definition. He and Trump seem to believe that if you cut the trade deficit, GDP will automatically rise.

Here’s a quick way to tell that something has gone wrong with the Ross-Navarro argument. Last year, the United States imported $180 billion worth of petroleum products — oil and such.

According to Ross and Navarro, if the United States made it illegal to import oil, thus wiping $180 billion off the trade deficit, our GDP would rise by $180 billion. With labor constituting 44 percent of GDP, that would mean about $80 billion worth of higher wages for American workers. So why doesn’t Congress take this simple, easy step to boost growth and create jobs?

Well, because it’s ridiculous.

What would actually happen is that gasoline would become much more expensive, consumers would need to cut back spending on non-gasoline items, businesses would face a higher cost structure, and the overall economy would slow down with inflation-adjusted incomes falling. Modeling the precise impact of a total shutdown of oil imports is hard (hence the computer models). But we know from experience that the directional impact of sharp disruptions in the supply of imported oil, and it’s not at all what Ross and Navarro say it would be.

Trump seems to believe something similar about trade with China: that getting rid of that $500 billion trade deficit would automatically increase GDP. That’s why he tweets “When you’re already $500 Billion DOWN, you can’t lose!”

and chemical weapons

There’s been another major chemical weapons attack in Syria, and once again the Assad regime looks like the attacker.

When this happened under President Obama, he negotiated Assad giving up his chemical weapons stockpile in a deal guaranteed by Assad’s ally Russia. When it happened again in the early days of the Trump administration, Trump ordered a missile strike against a Syrian airbase.

This time, Trump has tweeted:

President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay.

Whatever that means.

and Scott Pruitt

Since taking over the EPA, Scott Pruitt has had the mission of reversing his agency’s mission: It’s now supposed to protect polluters from regulations rather than use regulations to protect the environment from polluters.

He’s been good at that job. He’s reversed Obama’s Clean Power Plan for lowering carbon emissions from power plants, and is in the process of undoing the higher CAFE standards for cars’ gas mileage. He’s doing his best to muzzle EPA’s scientists.

That industry-pleasing performance is why he’s managed (so far) to weather revelations of corruption that would have sunk any cabinet secretary in any previous administration. Pundits continue to predict that his days are numbered, and even a few Republican senators are saying he has to go. But only one opinion matters, and Trump thinks he is doing a great job.

but here’s somebody you should meet

Trump’s attempt to ban transgender soldiers may seem abstract, unless you know one. Here’s one.

and you also might be interested in …

The indications of a 2018 blue wave are holding. Wisconsin elected a liberal supreme court judge by a wide margin.

Andrew McCabe’s wife says all the stuff she couldn’t say when her husband worked at the FBI.

I have spent countless hours trying to understand how the president and so many others can share such destructive lies about me. Ultimately I believe it somehow never occurred to them that I could be a serious, independent-minded physician who wanted to run for office for legitimate reasons. They rapidly jumped to the conclusion that I must be corrupt, as part of what I believe to be an effort to vilify us to suit their needs.

A federal judge in Massachusetts has rejected a claim that Massachusett’s assault-weapons ban infringes Second Amendment rights. The Massachusetts law more-or-less duplicates the federal assault-weapons ban that was in place from 1994-2004. The opinion, which quotes Justice Scalia’s Heller opinion at length, argues that the AR-15 is fundamentally a military weapon, and that there is no constitutional right for civilians to own military weapons.

This ruling mirrors an appeals court ruling on a similar Maryland law, which the Supreme Court refused to review.

HuffPost has a good article on the roots of the teacher revolts in Oklahoma and Kentucky. Meanwhile, Kansas approved a big increase in education spending, in response to its Supreme Court ruling that the previous budget did not meet the state’s obligations under the Kansas constitution.

Health insurance in Iowa has just gotten more precarious. The state has undercut the ObamaCare market by approving new plans that it says aren’t really insurance, and so don’t have to meet the standards in the ACA. In other words, it’s back to the junk insurance the ACA got rid of. The policies are intended for basically healthy people, and will work for them only as long as they stay basically healthy.

The inevitable result will be a lot of healthy people leaving the ObamaCare system for the cheaper, junkier plans. So insurers will have to raise rates, which will cause more people to leave, and so on.

The Trump administration’s zeal to deport anyone they can now extends to at least one honorably discharged veteran:

Xilong Zhu, 27, who came from China in 2009 to attend college in the United States, enlisted in the Army and was caught in an immigration dragnet involving a fake university set up by the Department of Homeland Security to catch brokers of fraudulent student visas.

Zhu paid tuition to the University of Northern New Jersey, created by DHS to appear as a real school, long enough to ship to basic training using the legal status gained from a student visa issued to attend that school.

Then ICE found him and asked the Army to release him for alleged visa fraud. He left Fort Benning, Ga., on Nov. 16, 2016, in handcuffs as an honorably discharged veteran.

Zhu is a native speaker of Mandarin, a skill the Army values. He had enlisted “through a program designed to trade fast-tracked citizenship for medical and language skills”.

I was going to link to this article last week, but it somehow got lost in the shuffle. The Atlantic raises the question: “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” One side effect of the increased Muslim presence in European countries is that many of these immigrants are strongly anti-Semitic. At the same time, the generation of Europeans that felt responsible for the Holocaust is dying off.

There’s a weird counter-productivity going on: The Muslims largely act out against their local Jews because they hate Israel. But if the European Jews leave, many will probably go to Israel, making Israel stronger.

More than half a year after Hurricane Maria, some Puerto Ricans still don’t have power. The image shows how slowly the grid was coming back in the first two weeks. It’s still not all the way back, and the next hurricane season starts June 1.

The Dutch news-comedy show Zondag net Lubach (Sunday with Lubach) tells its viewers about the “devastating humanitarian crisis” afflicting the United States: Nonsensical Rifle Addiction.

and let’s close with something classically funny

I could use a laugh about now, so here are a few Buster Keaton clips.

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  • cgordon  On April 9, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    GDP = Government spending + Consumer spending + Business investment – Trade Deficit. If that’s the definition, then GDP would by definition rise if you cut the trade deficit. Two problems: the other elements of GDP might fall in response, and in any case GDP is a poor measure of anything important. If you want to maximally contribute to GDP, getting into a nasty car wreck on your way to see a divorce lawyer or your oncologist is a good way to do it.

  • Anonymous  On April 9, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    Thank you!

  • Abby Hafer  On April 10, 2018 at 4:34 pm

    Question: How likely is it that DJT is deliberately making the stock prices of various companies plummet, so that he can pick up these stocks at a favorable price? His tweets are powerful enough that he could make a lot of money just by making the stock prices of a few companies go down and then up a few times.

    • Anonymous  On April 11, 2018 at 9:10 am

      If you think that’s the case, contact the SEC. That kind of market manipulation is illegal.

      My personal sense is that isn’t his objective. For example, Amazon: I don’t think he’s trying to profit from a bounce in Amazon’s stock price. The guy that owns Amazon also owns the Washington Post. I think he’s targeting Amazon because he doesn’t like the press coverage that he gets from the Washington Post. He’s not trying to bounce Amazon’s stock price, he’s just trying to hurt the CEO.

      That’s also corruption, but not the kind that the SEC can address.

    • weeklysift  On April 12, 2018 at 7:37 am

      For no good reason, I doubt that theory. I don’t recall Trump ever bragging about his stock market acumen. His self-image as a businessman is wrapped up in building things and selling products. Also, I think it would be too easy to get caught doing something like that.

      However, he’s assembled an ethics-challenged group of people around him, so it wouldn’t surprise me if somebody within the White House tried to make trades that anticipate his tweets.

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