Archive for the Category Misc.


Why I’m not impressed by “conservative judges”

When people summarize the first year of the Trump administration, they often focus on the appointment of lots of “conservative judges”.  Oddly, this is often considered a praiseworthy achievement, which is a sad commentary on our society.  I’d prefer a country where presidents were praised for appointing lots of “good judges”.

There are many definitions of conservative judges, but here’s mine.  Consider a closely fought election, such as 2000.  If the courts end up ruling on the outcome, then a conservative judge will support the conservative candidate, regardless of the facts of the case, and a liberal judge will support the liberal candidate, regardless of the facts of the case.  In a well functioning country, the political preferences of the judges would not factor into their decisions.  We’d have good judges, who looked at the specific facts of the case.

Another possible definition of conservative judges is one that views legislation passed by liberals as unconstitutional and legislation passed by conservatives as constitutional.

I have no opinion on whether the actual 2000 presidential election case was correctly decided.  But when people tell me I should support a judge because he is conservative, they are wasting their time.  In my view, the country would have been better off if Al Gore had won the 2000 election.  I certainly don’t want judges who will favor Trump in a court case (nor ones biased against him.)

I’m a libertarian, but I also don’t favor the appointment of libertarian judges.  I favor good judges.

PS.  If you tell me that my views are hopelessly utopian, that impartiality is impossible, that the rule of law is a myth, and that judges will inevitably have biases, then I still won’t favor conservative judges, I’ll favor utilitarian judges.  I.e. someone like Posner.

PPS. Note that because I’m a “rules utilitarian”, I don’t actually favor utilitarian judges.

PPPS.  And now they’ve politicized Christmas.  As our President tries to turn Christmas into a political football by promoting it, China and India wage war on the holiday.  Sad.  In retrospect, it’s now possible to clearly see Trump as just one aspect of the global rise of nationalism that accelerated around 2015.  It’s pointless to try to explain Trump; we should be trying to explain the global surge in right wing nationalism.  If your explanation for Trump doesn’t apply to India, China and Poland, it’s worthless.  That means your explanation should not include phrases such as “West Virginia” or “illegal immigrants”.  If it does, you are missing the big picture.

Is Trump deregulating the economy?


Jeff Sessions and the Resurgence of Civil-Asset Forfeiture


Trump administration toughens H-1B visa renewal process

“[With the update], we are going to much greater scrutiny of these cases, and thus delays, even when the underlying facts have not changed,” Lawrence told CNNMoney.

Immigration attorney Chris Wright of The Wright Law Firm told CNNMoney that it fits a broader pattern: “It seems clear that USCIS have been instructed to push back wherever they can…” he said, noting that “the prevailing attitude seems to be, ‘How might we be able to deny this petition?'”


Sessions cracks down on cities over immigration enforcement

Attorney General Jeff Sessions took new steps Thursday to punish cities he believes are not cooperating with federal immigration agents in a move that was met with bewilderment by local officials who said they did not know why they were being singled out.


AT&T-Time Warner suit could be the start of a more aggressive antitrust era

The move is unusual because the government does not typically challenge so-called vertical mergers like this one, which do not involve the combination of direct competitors. Some have speculated the challenge stems from President Donald Trump’s stated disdain for Time Warner-owned CNN, which he has decried as “fake news.


Trump moves to slap duties on Chinese aluminum foil


How Jeff Sessions Plans to End Medical Marijuana Before the Year Is Over

Tears streamed down Claudia Jendron’s face this year as her doctor patted her hand and told her, after eight years of failed pain treatments for her spinal fusion-gone-wrong, “This is going to work, Claudia.” She was talking about medical marijuana.

For “eight years of hell,” Jendron tried opioids, epidural shots and acupuncture in the hopes that she’d be able to sit down or go to her grandchildren’s birthday parties without having to leave and lie down. None of it worked. At one point, she considered checking into an assisted living facility to receive morphine before she tried medical marijuana. 

Then, early this year, the 66-year-old upstate New Yorker got a prescription for medical marijuana to help what she called “excruciating pain.” To Jendron’s surprise, her doctor was right about the weed. Two days after starting a tincture (a liquid cannabis extract dropped under the tongue), her crushing pain subsided to something manageable. . . .

The text of the Rohrabacher-Farr (also known as Rohrabacher-Blumenauer) Act, which blocked the U.S. Department of Justice from spending any money to prosecute medical marijuana in states where it’s legal. H.R. 2029 – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016

In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pushed back against the bill when he sent a strongly worded letter to Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, asking them to oppose protections for legal weed and allow him to prosecute medical marijuana.

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote in his letter.

So because crime is on the rise we need an intensified war on drugs?

And doesn’t this italicized sentence summarize everything that’s wrong with Sessions:

Sessions is known for being one of the nation’s toughest critics of legal pot. He once said the KKK was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” 

There is some deregulation occurring in areas like education and health care.  But I worry that there is too much focus on lowering regulations on business, and not enough on making markets freer.  For instance, in finance you can reduce regulations by reducing moral hazard, or you can reduce regulations by leaving the distorted regulations in place (FDIC, FHA, the GSEs, TBTF, etc.) and then free up banks to abuse the moral hazard created by that system even more than they currently do.  You can probably tell which type of “deregulation” I support.

When they start abolishing the Ex-Im Bank, Fannie and Freddie, Federal flood insurance, etc., then I’ll take the deregulation claim more seriously.  Right now I’m not impressed.  I worry that the Trump administration wants to make it easier for doctors and real estate developers and weapons makers and lots of other special interest groups to rip off the American public.  I worry that they want to increase regulations on legal immigrants struggling to stay in the country, or average people in pain who need medical marijuana, or small businesses who have their life savings seized by corrupt local cops.

Let’s try paring back regulations that cause distress for people on the bottom of society.  The upper class is already doing fine.


Congratulations to the TPP Eleven

The world is still getting better, even as America gets worse:

Danang (Vietnam) (AFP) – Ministers from 11 Asia-Pacific countries agreed Saturday to press ahead with a major trade deal without the United States, as the world’s largest economy seeks to go it alone under President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy.

Virginia Postrel points out that the new aluminum tariffs Trump just imposed will hurt US manufacturing but help the Russian economy.

All our intelligence services say that Russia meddled in the election.  We know that Russia meddles in the elections of lots of other countries.  But Trump says he believes Putin is telling the truth.  Russia is innocent.

Ever since George Wallace, I’ve had my doubts about the political judgment of Alabama residents.  But I always assumed that they knew their Bible stories.  So this raised an eyebrow:

State auditor Jim Ziegler is willing to admit the charges are true, but he doesn’t care. He cited the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph — “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus”— and concluded, “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

When I saw that Louis C.K.’s new film is being withdrawn, I was going to sarcastically ask if next we’ll be banning Woody Allen films.  But already did so–without the sarcasm:

As reports of firings and film cancellations have rolled through my newsfeed and into my inbox over the past few weeks, so too have invitations to screenings of Wonder Wheel, Allen’s latest film, which closed the New York Film Festival in October and is scheduled to open in theaters on December 1.

For now, Wonder Wheel remains untouched on the release schedule. If it stays there, I’ll be less convinced that Hollywood is ready to really deal with its demons, and more certain that money is still the loudest voice at the table.

HT:  Alex Tabarrok

FT bond market bleg

Since my previous post was a bit of a fiasco (I seem to have mixed up Canada and the UK on the mortgage interest deduction), let me set this up as a question, so I don’t have two stupid posts in a row.  Here’s today FT:

Republicans’ proposal to slash corporate tax rate to 20 per cent helped spur a rally in Treasuries last week. The expectation was that lower corporate taxes would jolt economic growth and prompt policymakers to step up the pace of their monetary tightening.

But the Senate’s proposal to delay a headline corporate tax cut until 2019 appeared to be driving a reversal in the rally on Friday.

I’m doubly confused.  First of all, when something like economic growth (or inflation) causes interest rates to change, it’s not because it causes policymakers to adjust monetary policy.  Economic growth, inflation, and other macro variables have a direct impact on interest rates.  They would cause a change in interest rates even if the Fed did not exist, and indeed did cause changes in interest rates before the Fed was created (in 1913.)

But that’s not my main source of confusion.  Reading this piece I couldn’t tell whether the FT was talking about bond prices or bond yields.  I had to check the bond yield graph to figure out that it had to be bond prices, as yields fell last week and rose today:

So bond prices rose last week and fell today, as yields and prices move in the opposite direction.  Just as they said.  But then I don’t get the FT claim that Treasuries (prices) rallied last week on expectations of faster economic growth.  Am I having my second brain freeze in a row?  Am I just as mixed up as my undergraduate students occasionally were at Bentley?

PS.  Check out this trailer, especially the final line.  Where can I see this film?  I’m getting bored with Woody Allen films, and would like to see one produced by someone else.


Lost in America

Due to the positive reaction to my previous post, I’ll do something even more self indulgent–keep a running tab of my trip. I write this from a secure undisclosed Red Roof Inn in Utica.

July 20:  After packing I got gas, and was told my sticker had expired months ago Got to get out of Massachusetts before they catch me.  Two blocks from home I enter the Mass Pike (I-90) in the evening “rush” hour.  Not a good start.  Over my entire life I’ve lived in a string of locations along I-90–which means I should have moved to the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

Just as I entered the Hudson River valley, a corny Thomas Cole sunset appeared in front of me, with musical accompaniment from a Joy Division CD.  Surreal. Stopped at a NY wayside at 9:30 and got a stale cheeseburger for dinner.  The AC was so cold it was painful.  Picked up one of those coupon magazine and tried to book a motel an hour down the road.  The call lasted forever–why does modern life have to be so complicated–do you have a room or not?

And that’s it.  Hopefully something more exciting will happen later on the trip. Perhaps my wife will gamble away our 401k plan in Vegas.  (She’s not with me now, but we’ll meet up in the midwest.)  Maybe I’ll find a picture or two to post.

July 21.  Before describing today’s trip I have one request.  I am working on a principles textbook and need some cartoons with economic themes.  I am trying to find one that I recall with a king who is relieved to hear the kingdom is merely run out of gold, not paper and green ink.  If you know any good econ-oriented cartoons (any field within econ), please leave a link in the comment section.

Right next to my hotel in Utica I found an actual original McDonald’s:

After my Egg McMuffin I took off in my new (used) Maxima.  First stop Buffalo, which has one of Frank Llyod Wright’s greatest houses, the Martin house designed in 1903:

So far they’ve spent over $40 million on the restoration, and it shows.  The interior is amazing.  The neighborhood is full of nice old homes.

Then on to the Knox-Albright art museum, which I found disappointing–not at all my taste in art.

Downtown is pretty quiet–much easier to park than in Boston.  But it’s full of nice buildings like this art deco gem:

With a lovely art nouveau mural in the lobby:

Then late at night I arrive at my surprisingly expensive “Super 8” motel, and had endless trouble getting my room key to work.  Remember when hotels had actual keys, which generally worked?  Then a quick KFC dinner, which is pretty horrible stuff, but surprisingly tasty.  I believe it’s the number one fast food in China. The checkout guy described all the deer he had hit with his car, in gory detail.  I was tired and just wanted to get back to my hotel, but I’m too polite, and just waited him out.

I forgot to mention an interesting incident when the packers loaded our furniture on Thursday. They spoke a romance language I could not place (which I usually assume means Portuguese), but had an eastern European accent.  It turns out they were Moldovan–I suppose they were speaking Romanian.  In any case I talked to a big burly guy named Vitalia afterwards and he asked what I did.  I said economic research and he asked what area.  I said monetary policy, and then explained that that related to the Federal Reserve (many Americans have no idea what monetary policy is.)  He smiled and said he knew what it was, and then asked me if I was the guy with a blog on the subject.  It turns out he reads my blog, and even described some of the amusing items in the in the comment section.  Lessons? It’s a small world, prob. values of 0.05 are meaningless, and never assume a big muscular worker is not highly educated.

July 22:  I was blown away by the quality of Detroit’s highway system.  It’s far better than what Chicago has, and serves a much smaller population.  You want infrastructure, Detroit has plenty.  And very few cars on either the downtown streets or the expressways.  I also saw lots of new apartment construction along Woodward Ave., which I drove from downtown out to Wayne State, where Detroit’s fine art museum is located.  Speaking of art museums, Toledo has probably the most underrated collection in all of America.  It’s a comprehensive collection, but I only had time to look at the paintings (I’m told they have an impressive glass collection, in another wing.  Toledo is glass city.)

I’m normally pleased when a small city museum has a couple of gems, but Toledo has dozens, with strength in both old masters and impressionism/post-impressionism. To my eye Rubens can seem a bit overdone, but when he’s on his game no one produces more beautiful paintings:

And here is a dazzling Bonnard (much more impressive in real life):

Also some cute modern art:

July 23:  Left Ann Arbor and drove to a house on Lake Michigan, owned by a commenter to this blog.  Once I reached Battle Creek it became an exercise in nostalgia.  As a child we drove once or twice a year from Madison to Lansing, to see family.  That was our one vacation of the year.  The trip was originally 12 hours, but fell to 6 after the interstates were built.  I used to be glued to the window, and now I started seeing a few familiar milestones—Kalamazoo, Paw Paw, and other oddly named towns.  (My grandmother was born in Hell, Michigan.)  But there were a few new additions, signs for “Sun Spa” and “Oriental Health Massage–open until 1am”.  After lunch my 3 hour trip from Benton Harbor to Rockford became 5.5 hours, as traffic in northern Indiana came to a standstill.  Out of frustration I decided to take local roads, the old highway 20.  It passed though downtown Gary as a thunderstorm was approaching.  To say Gary has seen better days would be an understatement–it seemed like a third world country.  I should have taken some pics, but didn’t know if the local residents would appreciate a visit by an aficionado of “ruin porn”.  I’m a long way from Mission Viejo.

July 24:  I returned to my hometown yesterday. In an earlier post, I explained why Madison, Wisconsin has convinced me that progressives are wrong about race in America.

In another post, I discussed my brother Mark’s amazing collection of old stuff.  He was featured on “American Pickers” (the second part of the episode entitled “Catch 32”.)  My best friend is an equally serious collector, except that he collects much larger objects.  Whenever I return to Madison I can count on seeing something new, and this time I was not disappointed.  Roger has purchased the original train station in Madison, as well as a big long train:

I’ve known Roger since I was 5.  When we were 14 we’d go to the rail yards in downtown Madison in the middle of the night, to collect unused flares.  The material was then packed into long aluminum tubes to make fireworks.  (Today we’d be investigated for suspicion of terrorism.)  We were roommates in college, and he started buying and selling bikes out of our apartment.  He gradually built that up into a bike retailing business with many stores, by working harder than anyone I’ve ever met.  The old Madison train station is now one of those stores.

My brother, Roger, and I share a strong interest in the past, and a fascination with old objects, buildings, photos, posters, etc.  Roger’s much more interested in the project of restoring an old building than in any money he’ll make from the venture.

I’m drawn to people who have a strong sense of nostalgia.

BTW, Roger chartered a boat trip for us yesterday, which provided a nice view of the Frank Lloyd Wright convention center and the capital.  Otis Redding died in December 1967, when the plane he was on crashed into this lake:

July 25:  Still in Madison.  Here are some pics from my brother’s “house”, which is more like a museum.  It’s a 5000 sq. foot Ford dealership from 1918, and the inside feels like you are back in time, with old store fronts hiding bedrooms:

Here is a giant clock face from an old bank in Illinois:

And here is “naked Santa”:

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

July 26:  Last day in Madison, not much to report.  Visited my favorite modern housing development (Middleton Hills), which consists of nothing but prairie-style or craftsman style homes:

I was very happy to see that the Wisconsin state capitol building in Madison still has no security at the entrance.  You can just walk right in.  Perhaps there is still a sliver of hope for America.

July 27:  Long drive from Rockford to Bartlesville, OK.  Drove through some of the best farmland in the world in north central Illinois.  My two favorite America hotels are in Oklahoma. Tomorrow we have lunch at the 21 Museum Hotel in OKC, while last night we stayed at the wonderful Price Tower Inn in Bartlesville.  It’s well off the beaten track, but worth it:

July 28:  Driving through Oklahoma reminded me of a trip I took in 1976 (with three others), driving from Madison to Yucatan over Christmas break.  The first “day” was Madison to San Antonio almost non-stop.  By the time we got to Oklahoma is was the middle of the night and there was a freezing rain outside.  The next day the driver of the Oklahoma segment told us he kept trying to keep his eyes open as he zoomed 80 mph over frozen bridges at 4am.  Of course we all laughed it off.  Now I’d be angry about something like that.  What makes 20 year olds so much braver than 60 year olds, despite having far more to lose (in terms of foregone years of life.)

We saw some nice art deco buildings in Tulsa:

Had lunch with Steve Winkler at the Museum Hotel in OKC.  The lobby is full of art—perhaps this one is a comment on the modern GOP:

North Texas is full of windmills—there seems to be thousands of them.  I enjoy driving the old Rte 66:

July 29:  I expected Arizona and New Mexico to be wide open highways and sunny skies.  Instead it was rainy with lots of traffic jams on I-40. Truckers like to drive side by side at 60 mph on a 75 speed limit highway.  What’s up with that? Albuquerque is a mess—no wonder New Mexico is the only state in that part of the country that does not have fast population growth.  However I saw some wonderful old 50s signs and motels along the way.

July 30:  Just arrived in Orange County.  Exhausted.  California traffic was bad, as expected, except the last 20 miles which were like my own private highway.  Wait, it was a toll road, which is sort of like a private highway.  Had dinner at a nice Japanese place on a lake, within walking distance of our house.  It’s 78 degrees and dry, with a cool breeze off the lake.  Paradise:

And had some yummy shrimp wrapped in pork:

No internet connection for the next few days, so blogging will be slow.