Over at National Review, James Sherk has a complaint:

President-elect Trump has picked Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants (i.e. Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s) for labor secretary. Amusingly, the media coverage of his nomination has been dominated by . . . fake news. Several outlets have reported that Puzder opposes increasing the minimum wage. That’s not exactly true.

Forget the Puzder stuff. His view on the minimum wage is a little hard to pin down. My objection is to the overuse of "fake news." There are two things that can qualify:

  • Stuff that's literally made up and passed off as real. The most famous example is here.
  • Wild conspiracy theories passed around on Facebook pages and crank websites.

"Fake news" is a useful concept, but not if we start using it to refer to anything we think is wrong or biased or not fully reported. We already have good words for this kind of stuff, ranging from "not the whole story" to "outright lie." We don't need to ruin a perfectly good phrase by using it where it really doesn't fit.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Rex Tillerson has emerged as the leading candidate to become President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, according to two transition officials, marking the latest twist in a multiweek search for a top diplomat.

....Among those considered for the post, Mr. Tillerson has perhaps the closest ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, having negotiated a 2011 energy partnership deal with Russia that Mr. Putin said could eventually be worth as much as $500 billion. In 2012, the Kremlin bestowed the country’s Order of Friendship decoration on Mr. Tillerson.

Oh come on. Trump is planning to nominate a wealthy, inexperienced fossil-fuel mogul whose only qualification—literally—is that he's sort of chummy with Vladimir Putin? And Republicans are expected to confirm him?

Who's writing the script for this show? No one's going to believe these plot twists. I gave up on Designated Survivor after a couple of episodes, and it was more realistic than this.

For years we've had a regular feline visitor to our house. However, a few days ago, for the first time I can remember, he visited during daylight hours. This caused considerable alarm, and in the ensuing dustup both of our cats somehow ended up on the roof. I'm not quite sure how or why, but after it was all over they roamed around for a while and then settled down on the patio cover. As you can see, Hilbert is keeping a watchful eye out for any further invasions of his territory.

Speaking of territory, the Downing Street mouse problem has still not been solved. So now, in addition to Larry, Palmerston, and Gladstone, the staff has added a mother and son pair of cats, Evie and Ossie. We now have an army of five cats on Downing Street patrol. Would you like to see them and hear about all the inside dirt? (Turf wars! Dog terrorizing! Tarantulas!) This is the kind of thing for which tabloids are really and truly your best source. Forget the Guardian. I recommend the Sun or the Mirror for this story.

A few years ago, conservatives raised an alarm over the fact that President Obama didn't receive an in-person intelligence briefing every day. Sometimes, it turned out, he met with the briefer, but other times he just read the briefing material. This was deemed a major threat to national security.

So how about Donald Trump?

President-elect Donald Trump is receiving an average of one presidential intelligence briefing a week, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter, far fewer than most of his recent predecessors....Trump has asked for at least one briefing, and possibly more, from intelligence agencies on specific subjects, one of the officials said. The source declined to identify what subjects interested the president-elect, but said that so far they have not included Russia or Iran.

My guess is that Trump (a) thinks he already knows everything he needs to know, and (b) is afraid the briefings might force him to acknowledge things he doesn't want to believe. In any case, he's going to be president pretty shortly, and surely Republicans are deeply concerned about his apparent lack of interest in the intelligence community's reports.

Right?

Late Thursday, Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Social Security subcommittee, introduced a bill to "reform" (i.e. cut) Social Security.

Josh Marshall warns, "Republicans apparently aren't going to be satisfied with phasing out Medicare. They're going to try to pass huge cuts to Social Security this year too. Not Bush-style partial phaseout but just big, big cuts. And you're out of luck even if you're a current beneficiary. "

The Washington Examiner describes it thusly:

The bill…would reduce costs by changing the benefits formula to reduce payments progressively for high earners. It would also gradually raise the full retirement age from 67 to 69 for people who are today 49 or younger. Lastly, it would change the inflation metric used to calculate benefits to one that shows lower inflation, essentially slowing the growth in benefits, and eliminate cost of living adjustments for high earners.

You can read the full bill below. Democrats are not pleased.

 

Paul Krugman notes today that all of us coastal elites actually do more for the recently famous white working class than Republicans do, but the working class folks still don't like us because they think we look down on them. He's a little puzzled about this:

Do the liberals sneer at the Joe Sixpacks? Actually, I’ve never heard it — the people I hang out with do understand that living the way they do takes a lot more money and time than hard-pressed Americans have, and aren’t especially judgmental about lifestyles. But it’s easy to see how the sense that liberals look down on regular folks might arise, and be fanned by right-wing media.

I'm not here to get into a fight with Krugman, but come on. Sure, the right-wing media fans the flames of this stuff, but is there really any question that liberal city folks tend to sneer at rural working-class folks? I'm not even talking about stuff like abortion and guns and gay marriage, where we disagree over major points of policy. I'm talking about lifestyle. Krugman talks about fast food, and that's a decent example. Working-class folks like fast food,1 which explains why Donald Trump liked to show pictures of himself eating McDonald's or KFC. It's a sign that he's one of them. Ditto for Trump's famous trucker hat. (Did you even know that it's a trucker hat, not a baseball cap? He did.)

If I felt like this was something that actually needs evidence, I could produce a million examples in a very short time. But everyone gets this, don't they? We sneer at their starchy food. We sneer at their holy-roller megachurches. (But not at black churches; never that.) We sneer at their favorite TV shows. We sneer at their reading habits. We sneer at their guns. We sneer at their double-wides. We sneer at the tchotchkes that litter their houses. We sneer at their supermarket tabloids. We sneer at their music. We sneer at their leisure activities. We sneer at their blunt patriotism. We sneer at—

Again: come on. Maybe you personally don't do it—though judging from the comments here, a lot of you do—but you hardly need to be an anthropologist to recognize that this kind of sneering shows up on TV, in newspapers, on Twitter, in books, on Facebook, and in private conversations all the time. It's hard to believe that anyone is really blind to this.

Now, it's true that they also sneer at us. Fair enough. But as all good liberals know, there's a big difference between a powerful group sneering at a vulnerable group, and vice versa. The former is a far bigger problem. And we educated city folks are, on average, far richer and more powerful than ruralish working-class folks. Our sneering has a power component that theirs doesn't. I confess that it's fun, and I enjoy my share of sneering in private, but I also accept that this attitude has political costs.

Anyway, I'm curious: do you accept this? Is it as obvious to you as it is to me? Or do you think I'm overstating things? Do I really need to make my case in more detail?

1So do I. Except for McDonald's.

It turns out that a lack of manufacturing jobs is not America's only problem. There's also a lack of columnists willing to defend Donald Trump:

As they discovered during the long campaign season, the nation’s newspapers and major digital news sites — the dreaded mainstream media — are facing a shortage of people able, or more likely willing, to write opinion columns supportive of the president-elect. Major newspapers, from The Washington Post to the New York Times, have struggled to find and publish pro-Trump columns for months. So have regional ones, such as the Des Moines Register and Arizona Republic, which have a long history of supporting Republican candidates.

Here's the problem: these folks are not looking for writers who will defend particular Trump policies from time to time. They want columnists who will regularly defend all Trump policies. And here's the catch: they want people who are non-insane.

That's hard. But perhaps it's a business opportunity for me. I could do this, I think, if I put my mind to it, but for obvious reasons of self-respect and the loss of all friends and family, the pay would have to be very high. So the question is, just how desperate is the media for a seemingly rational pro-Trump voice? Are they willing to pool their efforts to make me a highly-paid syndicated columnist who defends Trump no matter what he does?

Let's see how serious they are. Show me the money, people.

According to reports, Trump will nominate Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) as Secretary of the Interior. After a run of three outsiders, this means we're back to the swamp for Trump's cabinet. She's a fairly standard issue Republican by contemporary standards, and naturally she hates any environmental regulations that might actually save our interior for future generations.

You guys are way too smart. I posted my mystery map of the Middle East yesterday morning, and in less than an hour you had figured out what it represented. For the rest of you, here's the map with its real title:

I'm going to make an obvious point about this, but I want to make it carefully. Ever since I wrote my piece about the link between violent crime and leaded gasoline, I've gotten periodic questions about whether lead might be responsible for other things. The most common answer is maybe—but it's unlikely we'll ever have the data to prove it. For that reason, I try to stay pretty restrained about exactly what lead might and might not be responsible for.

That said, there's a lot of evidence that leaded gasoline produced a wave of violent crime between 1960-1990 in the developed world, and that the introduction of unleaded gasoline eliminated that wave and eventually brought crime rates down nearly to 1960 levels. In most developed countries, leaded gasoline was phased out starting around the mid-70s, which benefited children born after that. When those children reached their late teenage years in the early 90s, they were much less prone to impulsiveness and aggression, which led to lower crime rates.

But not every part of the world followed that timetable. In particular, leaded gasoline continued to be used in the Middle East up through the late 90s. Egypt began phasing it out in 1998, and most other countries followed over the next decade or so. Only a few—including Iraq and Afghanistan—still sell significant amounts of leaded gasoline.

Since lead poisoning affects infants, its affects show up about 18-20 years later. What this means is that in the bright red countries, the cohort of kids who reach their late teen years around 2020 should be significantly less aggressive and violent than previous cohorts. Around 2025 the countries in lighter red will join them. Around 2030 the countries in pink will join. By 2040 or so, the process will be complete.

Obviously this means that crime rates in the Middle East should decline steadily between 2020-40. But there's more. Given the effects of lead, it seems almost certain that reducing lead poisoning in teenagers and young adults should lead to a decline in terrorism as well.

This is where I want to be careful. Obviously terrorism, like crime, has a lot of causes. What's more, you could eliminate every molecule of lead in the world and you'd still have plenty of crime and plenty of terrorism. But you'd have less. If terrorism follows the path of violent crime, eliminating leaded gasoline could reduce the level of terrorism by 50 percent or more.

It's also possible—though this is much more speculative—that effective terrorism requires a minimum critical mass of people who are drawn to it. If you fall below that minimum, it might wither away. In other words, it's possible that removing lead from gasoline could reduce terrorism by even more than 50 percent.

In any case, this leads to a concrete prediction: Between 2020 and 2040, the level of terrorism emanating from the Middle East will drop by at least half. Ditto for violence more generally, including civil wars. In a decade or so, we should begin to get hints of whether this prediction is correct.

Here's another look at the current state of water in Flint. Instead of an average, it shows the number of homes with different levels of lead in their tap water. The data (here) is for the entire month of November (11/3 through 12/1) and covers 493 homes. The testing is done with unfiltered water.

About 87 percent of homes have lead content of 5 parts per billion or less. This is safe for anyone, even small children. Another 9 percent have lead content of 6-15 ppb. This is probably safe for adults, and safe for children if it's filtered. Another 3 percent have lead levels between 16-100 ppb. This is unsafe unless filtered. Finally, about 1 percent of homes have lead levels above 100 ppb, which might be unsafe even if it's filtered.

The filters are critical here. About 99 percent of Flint homes have safe water as long as a filter is properly installed and maintained. Replacing Flint's service lines will take a long time, and in the meantime the emphasis should be almost exclusively on making sure everyone has a working filter. Only a tiny percentage of houses still need to be using bottled water.