As Jared Kushner takes on ever more jobs, Steve Bannon has just lost one:

President Donald Trump has removed Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, from the National Security Council, according to a filing in the federal registry. A top White House official told NBC News that Bannon was put on the NSC's Principals' Committee only as a check against then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Now that Flynn is gone, Bannon is no longer needed in that role, the official said.

O...kay. So Trump appointed a guy as National Security Advisor who was so volatile and incompetent that he needed a minder? That's not a very reassuring clarification.

It's also not true, but nobody cares. It's impossible to prove that it's not true, so there's nothing we can do except shrug and accept it. Anything that gets Bannon off the NSC is fine with the rest of the world, I imagine, so we'll all just give it a pass.

The big topic of this particular micro-instant is the new Pepsi ad. What new Pepsi ad? you ask, if you're completely detached from all the important social memes of modern life. Fine. For you laggards, here's the ad. It seems to come in different versions, but I think this is the full one:

Over at the Washington Post, Elahe Izadi captures the general reaction to this ad in a piece titled "A second-by-second breakdown of Kendall Jenner’s unspeakably tone-deaf Pepsi ad." That about sums it up. People are pissed, and I probably don't need to explain why.

So why did Pepsi do it? Because they don't really care if people are pissed. They just want attention, and they got it. The very fact that everyone is writing and blogging and tweeting earnestly about how terrible this ad is means it's done its job. As long as Pepsi can stay just to one side of the Bill O'Reilly line—truly widespread protests that lead to boycotts etc.—this is a win.

Besides, progressives are the only ones who care about this, and in modern America you can count on us forgetting about it pretty quickly because Donald Trump is almost certain to do something soon to distract all. Maybe tomorrow he'll threaten Xi Jinping that he's going to bomb Beijing unless China reduces its trade deficit with the US. Or hell, maybe he'll offer to bomb Taipei if China will take out North Korea for us. Who knows?

UPDATE: I guess Pepsi decided they were getting perilously close to the wrong side of the O'Reilly line. Alternatively, they figured they'd gotten all the attention they were going to, so they might as well kill the ad:

I think Pepsi's marketing mavens should have paid less attention to this year's Super Bowl ads and more attention to SNL's sketch skewering them:

I guess I forgot to post my weekly look at Trump's job approval rating, but it's never too late (until next week, anyway). So here it is. He's still falling.

Use Your Seat Belt!

And now, from the Department of Random Stuff, we have seat belt use in the 50 states. Christopher Ingraham writes about this today over at Wonkblog, and his map showed shockingly low seat belt use. There were quite a few areas with seat belt use around 50 percent, and more than half the country was under 70 percent. Can that be true?

To find out, I headed over to the Orwellian-named Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System at the CDC and created my own map. Here it is:

This doesn't look so bad. The Dakotas are laggards at 70 percent, but most of the country is between 75-90 percent, with 11 states over 90 percent. The national average is 86.4 percent. I sort of assumed that after all these years, seat belt use was pretty much automatic for nearly everyone, but I guess not. Especially in the Dakotas.1

1And New Hampshire. Live free or die!

Jonathan Mahler has a piece in the New York Times Magazine today about the love-hate relationship between Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, and Donald Trump, the president of the United States. It's mainly about how both men thrive on politics as gossip, entertainment, and conflict, but it includes one interesting tidbit at the very end. It's about a breakfast meeting Zucker had last December with Ivanka Trump's husband, Jared Kushner, who has become an increasingly important Trump advisor in the White House:

Kushner wanted to know why CNN still hadn’t fired anti-Trump commentators like [Van] Jones and Ana Navarro, who said on CNN in October that every Republican would have to answer the question of what they did the day they saw a tape of “this man boasting about grabbing a woman’s pussy.”...Zucker tried to explain that even though Trump won, the network still needed what he described as “a diversity of opinion.”

I'm not sure if I'm supposed to take this literally or seriously. Did Kushner really think that this was how a news organization was supposed to work? That once Trump won, all the folks who didn't like Trump would be fired in some kind of Stalinesque purge?

Apparently so. Welcome to the Trump Show.

In its latest tracking poll, the Kaiser Family Foundation decided to test President Trump's theory that if he encourages allows Obamacare to blow up, the public will hold Democrats responsible. It didn't go well:

I hope Trump and the Republican Party have a Plan B ready.

Lunchtime Photo

Mostly I use this space to show off nice photos, but today is different. I decided to try out my camera's top normal ISO setting of 12800.

Old timers like me find this ridiculous. Back in the day, I remember that Kodak made some kind of ASA 1000 recording film that you could special order, which I did a couple of times.1 You could maybe push it a stop or two to ASA 2000 or 4000, but the results were pretty miserable. Nobody in their right mind did it unless they desperately needed to use a decent shutter speed in dim light and were willing to try anything that would produce even a barely usable image.

These days, I guess there are ISO 3200 black-and-white films available, but I don't have any experience with them. As for color, forget it. It tops out around ISO 800 or 1600. Digital to the rescue!

This is a picture of a black cat deep inside a dark cabinet where I could barely see him with my own eyes. The camera's autofocus was hopelessly confused, but manual focus still worked OK. I essentially pushed this inside the camera to ISO 25600, and still ended up shooting at 1/13th of a second. Then I brightened it a bit in Photoshop.

And it's...surprisingly unbad. The combination of a high ISO and anti-shake technology produced an image that's flat and grainy, but pretty useable if circumstances demand it. That's probably not very often, but I'll have to keep this in mind as part of my toolkit.

1ASA is what old people used to call ISO. They're both ratings of film speed (i.e., sensitivity to light). There are digital cameras out there that claim to support ISOs up to a million or so, which seems wildly unlikely, but who knows? Anybody ever tried ISO 3 million with Nikon D5?

The Trump administration has already backed down considerably on its list of NAFTA demands. Gone are 40 percent tariffs and currency rules. Instead, as Michael Grunwald points out in a nice overview, the most recent draft letter contains some pretty familiar negotiating points:

The letter suggests that the overarching purpose of the renegotiations should merely be modernizing NAFTA to deal with issues that didn’t exist when it went into effect, and strengthening it to reflect the standards in more recent U.S. trade deals. “For example, digital trade was in its infancy in 1994,” the letter says. “Labor and environment were an afterthought to the Agreement.” The eight-page draft also cites intellectual property rights, state-owned enterprises, and trade in services as areas where NAFTA ought to be updated to reflect 21st-century realities.

Well, guess what? After years of intense negotiations, the Obama administration already finalized a deal in which Canada and Mexico accepted new protections for digital trade, tougher labor and environmental safeguards, stronger intellectual property rules, new limits on state-owned enterprises, and freer trade in services like law, consulting, accounting and wealth management where U.S. firms tend to excel. But that deal was the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Asia-oriented trade agreement that Trump scuttled on his third day in office. Several former Obama aides pointed out that despite Trump’s attacks on TPP as an existential threat to the United States, much of his administration’s list of goals sounded like a rehash of TPP’s achievements.

The difference is that Obama was able to get these concession from Canada and Mexico because they wanted all the other benefits of TPP. Trump doesn't have that to offer them, so it's unclear what motivation they have to give him any of what he wants. Trump can threaten to leave NAFTA entirely, of course, but it's an empty threat. Corporate America would go ballistic if he did it. The damage to supply chains alone would be catastrophic.

This is why multi-country deals are sometimes better for the US: it gives us more levers to get the things we want. In bilateral negotiations, we don't always have that. Eventually, I suppose Trump will learn this lesson. Maybe.

The Washington Post reports:

President Trump's administration is exploring the creation of two controversial new taxes — a value-added tax and a carbon tax — as part of a broad overhaul of the tax code, according to an administration official and one other person briefed on the process.

Sure they are. This sounds more like a strategic leak to demonstrate "seriousness" on Trump's part than anything that's really under consideration. Just give it a moment's thought:

  • Republicans hate both VATs and carbon taxes. Hate hate hate.
  • A package that included top marginal rate cuts, corporate cuts, plus a VAT and/or a carbon tax to make it revenue neutral, would be almost comically regressive. Democrats would hate it even if the carbon tax were for real.

There's zero chance that anything like this could make it through Congress. The "administration official" peddling this is just blowing smoke.

UPDATE: Well, this little run up the flagpole didn't last long:

You may have heard people muttering lately about a Republican effort to revive Obamacare repeal. Sarah Kliff has all the details here, but I don't plan to say much about it for now. There are several reasons:

  • The CBO has basically told us already that the old version of Trumpcare was as bad as just repealing Obamacare and not replacing it with anything. The ultras in the House want to make Trumpcare even worse, but it's a little hard to see how they can do that. Can they really make things worse than they were before Obamacare was passed? I wouldn't put anything past them, I guess, but it seems a little pointless to follow the twists and turns of bad vs. really bad vs. catastrophically bad.
     
  • Trump still has to face the same political dynamic as he did before: if he makes Trumpcare even worse, he might get the ultras back on his side but he'll lose more of the moderates. It remains unclear if there's a sweet spot to be found.
     
  • Finally, keep in mind that the House was supposed to be the easy part. For a long time, we all just assumed Paul Ryan would manage to pass something, but then the real battle would be in the Senate. That's still the case. And if it's hard to figure out where the sweet spot in the House would be, it's all but impossible to figure out where it would be in the Senate.

That said, Republicans do have one thing going for them: the defeat of Trumpcare was a political debacle that might have woken them up. One way or another, if health care gets back on the agenda they might be extra motivated to make sure that something passes. Going down in flames twice in a few months would be pretty devastating.