Today an Argentinian journalist reported on a phone call between the Big Apple and the Big Apple:

Would Trump do something like this? Sure. Would both sides deny it if he did? Of course. On the other hand, the only evidence behind it is the unsourced report of a leftist journalist who has no love for Argentine President Mauricio Macri. It's hardly likely that the New York Times would run with something like that. Especially considering this:

Jorge Lanata, an Argentine journalist, said on his show Sunday that Trump had advocated during the phone call for approval of the construction of a Trump-branded property in Buenos Aires. But Lanata prefaced his statement by saying, “mitad en joda, mitad en serio,” which roughly translates to “half joking, half serious.”

That preface was dropped from a story about the report in Talking Points Memo, which quoted an account from La Nacion, an Argentine newspaper. The TPM story promptly attracted controversy on social media and was followed by a formal denial from Macri’s office.

Beyond this, you really can't wait a few hours and then declare that the media has dropped the whole thing. Any serious news outlet would spend time reporting this out before running anything, and that could take days or weeks. So maybe they've dropped it, maybe they haven't. We'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, Trump has met with some of his Indian business partners; he's trying to hire Jared Kushner, who is married to his daughter Ivanka, who will be running the Trump Organization in his absence; he's reportedly thinking about using his own hotel to put up foreign delegations; he has explicitly refused to divest himself of his business interests or even make a modest attempt to keep them at arms length; and both Mike Pence and Reince Priebus think any concern over this is just ridiculous.

In other words, I don't think we're going to lack for examples of obvious cronyism and conflicts of interest in the Trump White House. If the Argentinian thing doesn't pan out, plenty of other episodes of Trumpian venality will.

Atrios has a question:

I'm a bit confused about the obsession with all of the soon to be out of work truck drivers due to automated technology. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of industries being crushed too quickly....Still "what about the truck drivers" seems to get a lot more attention than other industries greatly hit by changes in technology/trade rules/taste evolutions/supply chain modifications.

....I'm not arguing it'll be a good thing for people impacted by it, just curious why this particular bad thing which hasn't even happened yet gets so much attention.

Like a lot of journalists, I wrote a piece for publication after the election that became suddenly obsolete on the morning of November 9 and was promptly sent down the memory hole. However, it happens to include an answer to Atrios's question. So in the spirit of never wasting any of my precious words, here it is. It's framed as advice to, um, president-elect Hillary Clinton:

Start thinking about robots. Don’t laugh. Ordinary automation has been part of the labor scene for decades, but smart machines haven’t yet had a big effect on semi-skilled and unskilled labor. That’s about to change. If this wasn’t clear already, it became alarmingly concrete in October when a trucking company delivered 50,000 cans of Budweiser from Loveland to Colorado Springs—without a driver. Within a few years, this technology will go from prototype to full production, and that means millions of truck drivers will be out of a job.

But that’s not even the worst of it. Self-driving trucks—and cars and buses and ships—rely on software that mimics human intelligence. Once that software is good enough to drive a truck, it will be good enough to do a lot of other things too. It won’t be millions of people out of work, it will be tens of millions.

The jobocalypse is still a decade away, but progressives should be out in front on this—and Clinton should make a start on figuring out solid policy responses that can become a cornerstone of her future economic policy. This isn’t something that needs to involve Congress at this point. President Clinton can do it all on her own.

Aside from the fact that it's visible, easy to understand, and relatively near-term, the reason that automated trucking draws a lot of attention is that it's likely to be the first truly widespread, economically disruptive application of artificial intelligence. And it's gaining on us.

Today's Trump Roundup

Let's start by griping about Trump's media coverage. As near as I can tell, Trump's process of choosing a cabinet is pretty ordinary. The president-elect always has a parade of candidates calling on him, and there's always an endless supply of gossip about who's likely to get chosen for what—fueled, almost inevitably by "sources close to the candidate." So why pretend that Trump has turned this into a "spectacle"? If you read the whole story, it doesn't sound any more spectacular than any other presidential transition. So how about if we stop pretending that everything Trump does is larger than life?

And speaking of the press, Trump met off-the-record today with about 30 or 40 TV media folks. This is apparently fairly common, and is usually a chance to discuss how the incoming administration plans to handle communications and for the press to talk about their concerns. Apparently that's not how it went this time:

“It was like a f–ing firing squad,” one source said of the encounter. “Trump started with [CNN chief] Jeff Zucker and said ‘I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed,’ ” the source said.

....“Trump kept saying, ‘We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful dishonest media who got it all wrong.’ He addressed everyone in the room calling the media dishonest, deceitful liars. He called out Jeff Zucker by name and said everyone at CNN was a liar, and CNN was [a] network of liars,” the source said.

It sounds like press relations should go smoothly in the Trump administration. In other news, the Washington Post reports that Trump is planning to shrink the number of federal employees, erode their job protections, and give them crappier pensions. And to top it all off, Steve Bannon will be in charge of all this:

The project aligns with Bannon’s long-stated warnings about the corrupting influence of government and a capital city rampant with “crony capitalism.” Breitbart headlines also provide a possible insight into his views, with federal employees described as overpaid, too numerous and a “privileged class.”

“Number of Government Employees Now Surpasses Manufacturing Jobs by 9,977,000,” the website proclaimed in November. There are 2.1 million federal civilian employees.

This is a Republican evergreen, of course. Still, it's nice to see that one of Trump's highest priorities is ending the scourge of skyrocketing federal employment shown in the chart above. Trump plans to make a few exceptions, though:

The heads of the Pentagon and the nation’s intelligence community have recommended to President Obama that the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, be removed.

....The news comes as Rogers is being considered by President-elect Donald Trump to be his nominee for director of national intelligence to replace Clapper as the official who oversees all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. In a move apparently unprecedented for a military officer, Rogers, without notifying superiors, traveled to New York to meet with Trump on Thursday at Trump Tower. That caused consternation at senior levels of the administration, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal personnel matters.

It's one thing for a new Republican president to pick national security staffers who are ideologically different from Democrats. That's to be expected. But Trump seems to be choosing folks who are just lousy at their jobs. Their main qualification is that they got fired or disparaged while Obama was in office. I guess this means Stanley McChrystal must be in line for something next.

That's enough for now. We can talk about Trump's unprecedented conflicts of interest some other time. So far, he appears to think that one of the perks of being president is that it's a great selling point for his branding business.

UPDATE: The original chart showing federal employment was incorrect. It has been updated.

Over the weekend I wrote about the latest water testing results from Flint. In case you missed it, here's the chart:

This is basically a pretty good result, but it wasn't clear to me if these were lead levels in the raw water or lead levels coming into homes with filters attached. Earlier this morning, I got an email from Gov. Rick Snyder's director of communications, Ari Adler:

The testing is done without filters — the filters are removed before the water is collected when the official EPA/DEQ water samples are collected. Filters have been tested and are removing the lead even when the water was coming in with lead levels much higher than the manufacturer guaranteed. Dr. Marc Edwards from Virginia Tech told reporters recently that filtered water in Flint is actually as good if not better than bottled water because of how well the filters are working.1

....Regarding homes with filters, here is the latest information I have from the Michigan State Police (who operate the State Emergency Operations Center): They have visited 100% of homes that receive Flint water. Of those, 96.1% had been confirmed to have a filter in place; 3.9% were unconfirmed.

And this:

Also, note that because the water has improved per EPA standards, the main focus on having people use filters in Flint at this point and well into the future is due to the replacement of lead service lines. There have been several cases across the country where lead service line replacement projects caused a spike in lead levels in drinking water because of the disruption of materials in the pipes....So, the filters are in place primarily for what is in the pipes and not what is in the water. Once the lead service line project is completed, and assuming the incoming water continues the improvements in quality we have seen to date, then we would stop the recommendation for filters in Flint.

I need to emphasize that I don't have any independent expertise here, and obviously Adler is telling the state's side of the story. That said, it seems to match all the basic testing data, which suggests that Flint water is in pretty good shape—and for virtually all homes it's 100 percent safe if a filter is installed.

As someone who's spent a lot of time reporting on lead, and who takes it as seriously as anyone can, the continued fights over this really irk me. The focus in Flint should clearly be on making sure filters are properly installed everywhere, not on bottled water. Bottled water should remain available for the small number of homes that still need it, but the hysteria needs to stop. It's hurting people who are living in fear unnecessarily. The folks in Flint deserve to know that their water is safe to use, and the money available to Flint needs to be used on more important things than delivering metric tons of bottled water all over the city.

1This is from the Detroit Free Press a few months ago:

Edwards' latest research shows the level of lead in Flint's drinking water supply has fallen by more than 50% and in some cases, as much as 80%, according to sampling taken at more than 160 Flint homes in summer 2015 and again last month. "Things are dramatically better than they were in 2015," Edwards said.

In fact, Edwards said, properly filtered water in the city was likely as good, if not better, than bottled water, especially prepackaged water that had been stored for a long time in hot conditions.

Edwards recommends that anyone in America with lead service pipes should install a filter.

Holy crap. Drug testers have been hauling out old urine samples from the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, and the results are devastating:

More than 75 athletes from those two Olympics have been found, upon further scrutiny, to be guilty of doping violations. The majority are from Russia and other Eastern European countries. At least 40 of them won medals. Disciplinary proceedings are continuing against other athletes, and the numbers are expected to climb.

....The Olympic committee announced penalties for 16 athletes last week and another 12 on Monday. Suddenly — and unceremoniously — some undecorated Olympians are inheriting medals for their performances eight years ago. Even sixth-place finishers who were far from the podium are now bronze medalists.

....Nearly all of the violations, across nationalities, were for the anabolic steroids Stanozolol or Turinabol, the very substances that notoriously fueled East Germany to global dominance in the 1970s and 80s. A rash of Turinabol violations have also recently cropped up in major and minor league baseball in the United States.

This sounds a lot like the covert help that Russia provided to Donald Trump during the election. Too bad there's nobody around to take his medal away.

I've seen dozens of articles like this over the past week:

Democrats ask themselves: Now what? Who'll lead the party from the wilderness, and how?

Instead of expanding the political map against Trump into the Republican-leaning reaches of Arizona and Georgia, Democrats are reckoning with the loss of Michigan and Pennsylvania, states they won in the last six elections, and Wisconsin, which had not voted for a Republican for president since 1984.

…The last time the party faced such deep existential angst, after three straight losing presidential campaigns, Democrats shifted their philosophical course and moved closer to the middle, nudged by a fresh-faced Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton. Paul Begala…suggested the party's message should be a throwback to the one that helped elect Bill Clinton in a time of similar voter anxiety and frustration: "It's still the economy, stupid," Begala said.

There's no question that Democrats are in a heap of trouble outside of Washington, DC. They control fewer governorships and state legislatures than at any time in recent memory. But that's been true for a while and has nothing in particular to do with this year's presidential defeat.

So what did cause Hillary Clinton's loss? This is all still tentative, but as I've read more preliminary analysis of county-level returns, I'd say it was three things. Two of them are probably going to piss you off:1

Millennials. This one is pretty clear-cut. Relative to 2012, Hillary Clinton did worse among millennials by a considerable amount. They turned out to vote in their usual numbers, but a lot of them abandoned Clinton for third-party candidates. All told, I'd say this cost Clinton about 5 percent of the millennial vote, which amounts to 1-2 percent of the total vote. Trump, meanwhile, did as well with millennials as Romney did in 2012.

Why? I realize we're all supposed to move on from this, but I blame Bernie Sanders. He started out fine, but after his campaign took off and he realized he could actually win this thing, he turned harshly negative. Over and over, his audience of passionate millennials heard him trash Clinton as a corrupt, warmongering, corporate shill. After he lost, he endorsed Clinton only slowly and grudgingly, and by the time he started campaigning for her with any enthusiasm, it was too late. I understand that Bernie fans want to deny this obvious reality, but honestly, is it any wonder that Clinton lost a big chunk of the millennial vote?

James Comey. An awful lot of people claim that Democrats are kidding themselves if they blame their loss on Comey instead of their systemic problems. I couldn't agree less. The Trump campaign thinks Comey made a difference. The Clinton campaign thinks Comey made a difference. The pre-election polls suggest Comey made a difference. The bulk of the evidence suggests it cost Hillary Clinton about 2 percent of the total vote.

Why dwell on this? Because it matters whether Clinton's loss was truly due to problems with either the Democratic agenda or problems with Clinton herself. If, instead, Comey was the difference between winning and losing, then all the circular firing squads are squabbling over flaws that don't really exist. If Comey had kept his mouth shut and Clinton had won the popular vote by 3.5 percent, she'd be president-elect and we wouldn't even be talking about all the rest of this stuff.

The working class divide. Note that I said working class, not white working class. Here's some data for you. Among the white working class,2 Hillary Clinton lost 14 points of support compared with 2012. Among the black and Latino working class, she lost 8 points of support.3 Altogether, this cost her about 6 percent of the total vote.

Among white college grads, Clinton gained about 10 points of support. Among black and Latino college grads, she lost about 2 points. Altogether, this gained her about 4 points of the total vote.

The net loss here is about 2 points of the total vote. It's true that among the working class Clinton lost more among whites than nonwhites, but she lost big among all races. This strongly suggests that the working class was primarily motivated by economic concerns and only secondarily by racial issues. This is the opposite of what I thought during the campaign, but I was wrong.

There are other things that probably made a difference. The press obsession with Clinton's emails was one. The mediocre economic environment was another. Clinton's surprisingly poor showing among unmarried men is yet another. And we can add to this some questionable campaign decisions by the Clinton team. But remember: Despite all this, Clinton won the popular vote by about 1.5 percentage points. Neither she nor her agenda were roundly rejected by America.

In the end, then, I basically put the onus for Clinton's defeat on bitter Bernie, crooked Comey, and the wounded working class. They turned a landslide into a close win, which the Electoral College then turned into a defeat. For what it's worth, I also blame our country's apparent indifference toward racism and sexism. I'm not sure that either one of them drove a large number of votes, but there's no question that a big chunk of America looked at a voraciously racist and misogynistic campaign from Donald Trump and decided to shrug it off. It just wasn't important to them. That's as disheartening as anything else that happened this year.

1Some of you anyway. Honestly, it's not deliberate on my part. As best I can tell, this is just what the data tells us.

2There's no universally accepted definition of working class. For our purposes, it's anyone without a college degree.

3The white working class is much larger than the nonwhite working class, so this translates into far more raw votes lost due to white working-class defections. However, the actual strength of the defections was surprisingly close among all races and ethnic groups.

Is news "aggregation" getting out of hand? On Twitter this morning, I happened to see a complaint that TPM had badly mischaracterized a Bernie Sanders speech in Boston this weekend, possibly in an aggregation form of the old telephone game. I was curious, so I went to the original source. It definitely wasn't telephone. In fact, it was practically a word-for-word rewrite of the original. It was all properly attributed, but still. It's one thing to quote pieces here and there of your source material, it's another to lightly rewrite the sentences and publish it under a different name. That ain't right.




Bernie Sanders, In Boston: Democratic Party Needs To Return Its Focus To Working Class

The Vermont senator told a crowd of more than 1,000 mostly young people at the Berklee Performance Center that this month's election shows the party has to return its focus to the working class.

"The working class of this country is being decimated — that's why Donald Trump won," Sanders said. "And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people, who understand that real median family income has gone down."

Sanders also said supporters needed to help move the party away from what he calls "identity politics."

"It is not good enough for somebody to say, 'I'm a woman, vote for me.' That is not good enough," Sanders said. "What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industries."


Sanders Urges Supporters: Ditch Identity Politics And Embrace The Working Class

In a speech Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) urged attendees to move away from “identity politics” and towards policies aimed at helping the working class. Sanders spoke to a crowd of more than 1,000 mostly young people at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, according to a report from WBUR.

"The working class of this country is being decimated — that's why Donald Trump won," Sanders said, according to the same report. "And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people, who understand that real median family income has gone down."

Sanders also urged the crowd to move the party away from what he called “identity politics.”

"It is not good enough for somebody to say, 'I'm a woman, vote for me.' That is not good enough," he said, according to the same report. "What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industries."

The topic of the day is "fake news." This takes two forms. The first is something that's mocked up to look like a real news site and contains flat-out fabrications. The creators make money by trying to make their stuff go viral on Facebook and then collecting ad revenue. The second type of fake news is more familiar: hysterical conspiracy theories that make the rounds among the grass roots. There's nothing new about this except for the vehicles it uses. In the past, stuff like this circulated via newsletter, and then email chains. Today it circulates via Facebook and other social media platforms.

In any case, these are both allegedly huge problems. I'm not totally convinced of this yet, since I haven't seen any data about how widely spread this stuff is and whether it actually changes any minds. I'd put even money that it mainly gets circulated among people who are already highly receptive to fever swamp nonsense and who already hate whichever person it's aimed at.

Still, let's assume it's a problem. Riddle me this: Why is it that fact-checking sites spend countless hours researching the accuracy of statements by politicians, but spend no time researching the latest crank news on Facebook? I recommend they start. To do this, they need to either (a) get deeply involved in the left and right-wing fever swamps so they know when something new is making the rounds, or (b) set up an automated system that alerts them when something political starts to get widely shared. The latter sounds like it might be tricky, but if Silicon Valley is supposedly populated by the smartest people on the planet, surely one of them can create a site updated daily that contains, say, the top 50 wacko viral political stories along with how they're trending.

It's time to join the 21st century. In the past, checking out the statements of politicians was important. It still is, I suppose, though few people seem to care much about it. In any case, viral stories on the net are probably a lot more important. It's time to expose them to the light of day on a consistent basis and explain where they come from and whether there's any truth to them.

Nick Kristof tells me something I didn't know:

The announcement that Trump has recruited Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser is particularly alarming....Flynn had a brilliant military career....Then President Obama nominated Flynn to become director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and he began to unravel....Flynn’s former fans have been bewildered at his raging denunciation of Islam, including calling it a “cancer.” In February, Flynn also tweeted and asked others to forward a viciously bigoted video that argued that there could be no such thing as Islamophobia.

....For his chief of staff, Flynn chose his son, who is a looney on social media, calling President Obama a communist and fascist, tweeting racially insensitive comments and sharing absurd conspiracy theories.

The chief of staff for the National Security Council will be Flynn's son? Well, why not? Donald Trump has set the tone on nepotism from the top, and it's obvious that he not only tolerates it, but positively revels in it.

The New York Times tells us about Ivanka Trump's husband, Jared Kushner:

Whatever role Mr. Kushner may play in the administration, he has already had a hand in helping assemble it. Both of Mr. Trump’s most senior advisers, Mr. Priebus, his new chief of staff, and Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, seek Mr. Kushner’s advice routinely, considering his buy-in almost a prerequisite for their proposals to Mr. Trump....“Jared has the trust, confidence and ear of the entire inner circle of the Trump administration, including the most important member of that group, the president-elect,” said Matthew Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

....Though he is not particularly bookish, Mr. Kushner is an admirer of “The Count of Monte Cristo,” the story of an innocent man seeking vengeance against people who have wronged him. It is a story that feels particularly resonant now: In recent weeks, Mr. Kushner has been able to exact a measure of revenge against his own family’s nemesis, Governor Christie.

The Count of Monte Cristo! Could there be a more perfect book for Trump's extended family? But Kushner better watch out:

[Trump] gets angry when members of his inner circle get too much of the spotlight, as Rudolph W. Giuliani did when headlines about his millions of dollars in speaking fees appeared as the former New York mayor was publicly promoting himself to be Mr. Trump’s secretary of state.

Apparently Giuliani is now on the outs. Kushner might be too if more profiles like this start appearing.