Over at National Review, David French writes:

For a ‘Peaceful’ Group, Black Lives Matter Sure Does Love Cop Killers and Murderous Dictators

I don’t know how I missed it, but this sickening essay from Black Lives Matter has to be read to believed. Entitled “Lessons from Fidel: Black Lives Matter and the Transition of El Comandante,” it begins....

I'm not especially trying to pick on French here, but this gives me an excuse to gripe about something that I see too often these days.

Let's stipulate that the essay in question is horrible. I don't care one way or the other. What I do care about is that French attributes it to "Black Lives Matter." But that's not the case. It was written by a specific person, not by BLM as some kind of official position statement. It represents them no more than I represent Mother Jones.

Still, at least MoJo employs me and has some responsibility for what I write. You can't even say that much about the author of the Castro piece. To the extent that there's an "official" BLM organization, it's here. This is the organization founded by Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza. But pretty much anyone can set up shop under the BLM name, and the essay French links to comes from a Medium site called @BlackLivesMatterNetwork. It has posted a grand total of three pieces in the last two months. I have no idea who wrote them or who the site is associated with.

Condemn the piece all you want. But it's not fair to use it to tar "Black Lives Matter." They aren't responsible for everything that's tossed onto the web under the BLM banner.

UPDATE: It turns out that the official BLM site shared the Castro essay on its Facebook page. So it's fair to call them out for promoting it.

My general complaint stands, however. If I write something, it means "Kevin Drum says," not "Mother Jones says." If David French writes something, it means "David French says," not "National Review says." Needless to say, this rule is for personal opinion/analysis pieces. News organizations are corporately responsible for editorial opinions and straight news.

The Financial Times reports that Donald Trump spoke on the phone today with Tsai Ying-wen, the president of Taiwan. This is a very big deal:

The telephone call, confirmed by three people, is believed to be the first between a US president or president-elect and a leader of Taiwan since diplomatic relations between the two were cut in 1979.

Although it is not clear if the Trump transition team intended the conversation to signal a broader change in US policy towards Taiwan, the call is likely to infuriate Beijing which regards the island as a renegade province. “The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,” said Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House national security council.

Of course, maybe Trump was just calling to ask for a business favor:

The mayor of Taoyuan confirmed rumors on Wednesday that US president-elect Donald Trump was considering constructing a series of luxury hotels and resorts in the northwest Taiwanese city. A representative from the Trump Organization paid a visit to Taoyuan in September....Other reports indicate that Eric Trump, the president-elect's second son and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, will be coming to Taoyuan later this year to discuss the potential business opportunity.

Who knows? But foreign policy wonks are blowing a gasket over this, and the question of the hour is: Did Trump set off this diplomatic shitstorm accidentally or deliberately? I have to believe it was deliberate. Even Trump's team isn't so pig-ignorant that they're unaware of our policy toward China and Taiwan.

But if that's the case, it means that Trump is dead set on pursuing a hostile policy against China from the get-go. Perhaps, thanks to his decades of steely negotiating victories, he believes the Chinese will eventually back down once they realize they can't mess with him. Perhaps. Welcome to Trumpland.

UPDATE: It's worth noting that Trump has an odd kind of advantage here. For a little while longer, anyway, he can do this kind of stuff just to see what happens—and then, if it blows up, he can pretend he wasn't up to speed what with all the staffing work etc. etc. Then he calls someone in China and declares that everything is fine, China is a fantastic place, he has nothing but the highest respect for them, blah blah blah.

Will this work? I suppose it might. But not for much longer.

I got lucky this week and managed to snap this gorgeous portrait of Hopper. Today, however, everyone is inside. The wind is blowing pretty hard, and it took the cats less than a minute to decide that the backyard was much too scary for them. Leaves blowing! Branches thwacking on the patio cover! Loud whooshing sounds! Much better to snooze inside next to a window, where cruel nature can be seen but not heard.

This should surprise no one:

For the first time, Donald Trump has said he supports finishing construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline....The company behind the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, had donated $100,000 to a Trump Victory Fund before the election in the hopes that he’d greenlight it.

....There’s also a seedy financial twist here: Last week, disclosure forms suggested that Trump himself had as much as $300,000 personally invested in the project. That explains why his transition team had to clarify that Trump’s support "has nothing to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans."

This is a win-win-win-win for Trump:

  • It's a project that provides a bunch of blue-collar jobs.
  • He gets to come out against a Native American tribe and its whining about "sacred lands," something that his base of real Americans will surely appreciate.1
  • A big donor gets what it wants.
  • And Donald gets a little cut of the action for himself.

What's not to like? The only surprising thing is that it took Trump this long. I wonder why it didn't become a staple of his campaign speech months ago?

MoJo has had lots of coverage of this, so I haven't spent too much time on it. But there is one thing I'm curious about. There's already a gas pipeline called the Northern Border Pipeline that crosses the Missouri River at the site of the DAPL project. That's one of the reasons the DAPL folks want to build there, and I assume it also figures into the Army Corps of Engineers' thinking. If they approved the gas pipeline decades ago, what justification do they have for not approving a second pipeline in the same place? I only bring this up because I almost never see it mentioned in coverage of the DAPL protests. But surely this has some impact on what the Corps can do legally?

1Please note sarcastic tone here.

Yesterday I teased you about a "secret weapon" that can save Obamacare. Here it is:

  • Pre-existing conditions

Obamacare requires insurance companies to insure anyone who wants coverage, no matter what kind of pre-existing conditions they have. It also requires them to sell this coverage at the same price they sell to everyone else. Unless Republicans go nuclear—by eliminating the filibuster or threatening to fire the Senate parliamentarian—they can't repeal this without a bunch of Democratic votes. And as long as the pre-existing conditions ban is in place, repealing Obamacare, with or without a replacement, will wreck the individual insurance market.

I mean this literally: Most likely, every insurance company in America would simply exit the market. Something like 7 percent of Americans would flatly have no source of insurance. This is political suicide, and Republicans know it. Hopefully, Democrats know it too.

My full story about this is here. I recommend that everyone read it. If Democrats want to save health care reform, this is the hammer that will allow them to do it.

Just thought I'd mention it. As of today, she leads Donald Trump in the popular vote by 2.56 million votes, a margin of 1.89 percent. In the three key swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin that gave him his victory, Trump's combined lead is less than 80,000 votes. By any measure you can think of, Trump has the narrowest victory of any president in the last century; the smallest mandate; and is by far the least liked.

The American economy added 178,000 new jobs last month, 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at a modest 88,000 jobs. At first glance this seems OK, but it looks worse when you drill below the surface.

The headline unemployment rate spiked down to 4.6 percent, which is very close to a record low for the past 40 years. Unfortunately this is largely because a stunning 446,000 people dropped out of the labor force, not because a huge number of people got jobs. In fact, the labor participation rate went down, from 62.8 percent to 62.7 percent. Given this, it's not surprising that hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees were flat. If the labor market were really tightening, wages would be going up.

The general reaction to this jobs report seems to be that it shows "decent, steady growth." I don't agree. That is what the headline unemployment number shows, but this mostly suggests that the headline unemployment number is becoming less and less reliable as a good measure of the jobs picture. This was a disappointing report.

This hardly seems important at the moment, but Sarah Kliff mentioned something today that's always bugged me. She's explaining why prescription drugs cost a lot more in the US than elsewhere, and concludes that it's because other countries all negotiate drug prices at a national level and we don't:

The United States has no government panel that negotiates drug prices. There are thousands of health insurance plans all across the country. Each has to negotiate its own prices with drugmakers separately. Because Americans are fragmented across all these different health insurers, plans have much less bargaining power to demand lower prices. In other words: Australia is buying drugs in bulk, like you would at Costco, while we’re picking up tiny bottles at the local pharmacy. You can guess who is paying more.

OK, but take a look at the stick figure on the right, part of Vox's latest innovation in explanatory journalism. The country with the lowest drug spending is Denmark, population 6 million. Compare that to Blue Cross, which insures about 100 million people. United Healthcare insures about 70 million. Aetna insures about 20 million. Kaiser Permanente clocks in around 10 million.

In other words, all of these health insurers are as big as whole countries. And they're way bigger than little Denmark. So why are they unable to negotiate lower drug prices? Medicare may be prohibited from doing this, but private insurers aren't.

Are insurers hemmed in by rules requiring them to offer any "medically necessary" drug? Are they, ironically, limited by competition—afraid of losing customers if they don't cover everything? Are they just lousy negotiators because they don't really care? After all, high prices are going to get passed along anyway, so it doesn't hurt them as long as their competitors are in the same boat.

Alternatively, do I completely misunderstand how the process works?

My gripe with this is not so much that drug prices are high. My gripe is that the US essentially subsidizes the rest of the world. Pharmaceutical companies require a certain overall return on their invested capital, but they don't care where it comes from. If prices are low in Europe and high in the US, that's fine. If prices in the US came down, they'd make up for it by raising prices in Europe—and that would be fine too.

So why not put America First, to coin a phrase, and push down prices here? It wouldn't hurt the drug companies, it would just force them to raise prices elsewhere. That would be fine with me. I've never really understood why we're in the business of helping Europe pay less for drugs.

This is insane:

A top Russian official is accusing the Ukrainian government of undermining Donald Trump’s presidential campaign by trashing him on social media and disseminating dirt on one of his close associates.

....“Ukraine seriously complicated the work of Trump’s election campaign headquarters by planting information according to which Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, allegedly accepted money from Ukrainian oligarchs,” Maria Zakharova said at a press briefing....The renewed scrutiny of Manafort’s dealings in Ukraine comes at an awkward time for the veteran operative and for Trump.

WTF? Russia is publicly complaining that another country took sides against it in an American election? Aren't they even pretending anymore that they didn't do anything to help Donald Trump win the presidency?

One of the problems with Donald Trump's habit of lying endlessly—aside from the fact that he does it in the first place—is that it affects everyone around him. By chance, today brought this all front and center. We start off with Trump himself:

This is a routine, garden-variety Trump lie. He obviously knows it's untrue, but he doesn't care. You see, for him it represents some kind of higher truth. Trump lackey Scottie Nell Hughes, in the course of explaining a different Trump lie, tells us how this works on the Diane Rehm show this morning:

People that say facts are facts, they're not really facts....There's no such thing, unfortunately anymore, as facts. And so Mr. Trump's tweet, amongst a certain crowd, a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some facts amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies and there's no facts to back it up.

Got that? These things the rest of us call lies are facts amongst him and his supporters. Senior lackey Kellyanne Conway agrees that truth in Trumpworld is a relative thing, but defends it more directly. If Trump says it, then by definition there must be something to it:

Finally, Corey Lewandowski tells us all to just get the hell over it:

This is the problem with the media. You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally. The American people didn’t. They understood it. They understood that sometimes — when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar — you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.

Apparently we've got four years of this behavior ahead of us. Trump's "facts" aren't meant to be facts. They just represent a state of mind, or perhaps an aspiration of some kind. His supporters all get this. Now we'd all better get it too.