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Tell Us What You Really Think About Donald Trump

| Sat Aug. 1, 2015 7:23 PM EDT

I've sort of promised myself not to write about Donald Trump, but (a) it's a weekend, and (b) David Fahrenthold has a pretty entertaining piece about Trump in the Washington Post today. Here's a brief excerpt of some of the reactions Fahrenthold got to a variety of Trump's blatherings:

Mark Krikorian, a foe of illegal immigration, on Trump's immigration ideas: “Trump is like your Uncle George at Thanksgiving dinner, saying he knows how to solve all the problems. It’s not that he’s always wrong. It’s just that he’s an auto mechanic, not a policy guy.”

David Goldwyn, a former State Department official in the Obama administration, on Trump's plan to fight ISIS by simply bombing them and then taking all their oil: “That is sheer lunacy on so many counts, it’s hard to start.”

Some anonymous sources on the same idea: “Oil-industry experts expressed skepticism about this plan. Skepticism, in fact, may not be a strong-enough word.”

Michael Tanner of Cato, on Trump's endless vision of new building projects combined with his insistence on lowering taxes: “You can’t spend more and collect less. That’s kind of basic math. You can argue about how the math adds up in the other people’s plans. But there’s math there. This, there’s just no math.”

Gary Hufbauer of the Peterson Institute on Trump's plan to jack up tariffs on countries he doesn't like: “If you thought this had a ghost of a chance — which it doesn’t — you would sell all your stocks,” because of the damage that a trade war would do to the U.S. economy.

You know, when Mark Krikorian is critical of your anti-immigration ideas; Michael Tanner is skeptical of your tax-cutting ideas; and oil companies want no part of your oil-stealing ideas, you just know there's something wrong.

Anyway, Fahrenthold's piece is worth a weekend click. And you might as well do it while you can. We won't have Trump to kick around forever.

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Our Anti-ISIS Program in Syria Is a Bad Joke

| Sat Aug. 1, 2015 11:44 AM EDT

So how are we doing in our efforts to train moderate Syrian allies to help us in the fight against ISIS? Here's the New York Times two days ago:

A Pentagon program to train moderate Syrian insurgents to fight the Islamic State has been vexed by problems of recruitment, screening, dismissals and desertions that have left only a tiny band of fighters ready to do battle.

Those fighters — 54 in all — suffered perhaps their most embarrassing setback yet on Thursday. One of their leaders, a Syrian Army defector who recruited them, was abducted in Syria near the Turkish border, along with his deputy who commands the trainees....Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has acknowledged the shortfalls, citing strict screening standards, which have created a backlog of 7,000 recruits waiting to be vetted. Mr. Carter has insisted the numbers will increase.

Okay, I guess 54 is a....start. So how good are they? Here's the New York Times today:

A Syrian insurgent group at the heart of the Pentagon’s effort to fight the Islamic State came under intense attack on Friday....The American-led coalition responded with airstrikes to help the American-aligned unit, known as Division 30, in fighting off the assault....The attack on Friday was mounted by the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda. It came a day after the Nusra Front captured two leaders and at least six fighters of Division 30, which supplied the first trainees to graduate from the Pentagon’s anti-Islamic State training program.

....“This wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” said one former senior American official, who was working closely on Syria issues until recently, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments....Division 30 said in a statement that five of its fighters were killed in the firefight on Friday, 18 were wounded and 20 were captured by the Nusra Front. It was not clear whether the 20 captives included the six fighters and two commanders captured a day earlier.

Let's see, that adds up to either 43 or 51 depending on how you count. Starting with 54, then, it looks like Division 30 has either 11 or 3 fighters left, and no commanders. But apparently that's not so bad!

A spokesman for the American military, Col. Patrick S. Ryder, wrote in an email statement that “we are confident that this attack will not deter Syrians from joining the program to fight for Syria,” and added that the program “is making progress.”

....[A senior] defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence reports, described what he called “silver linings” to the attack on Friday: that the trainees had fought effectively in the battle, and that coalition warplanes responded quickly with airstrikes to support them.

The trainees fought effectively? There are no more than a dozen still able to fight. That's not the same definition of "effective" that most of us have. As for the US Air Force responding quickly, that's great. But the quality of the US Air Force has never really been in question.

This is starting to make Vietnam look like a well-oiled machine. Stay tuned.

The Clinton Rules, Tax Record Edition

| Fri Jul. 31, 2015 5:01 PM EDT

I was sitting in the living room this afternoon and Hopper jumped into my lap. So I told Marian to turn the TV to CNN and I'd watch the news until Hopper released me. The first thing I saw was John Berman teasing a segment about Hillary Clinton releasing a health statement plus eight years of tax records. In other words, pretty routine stuff for any serious presidential candidate. But when Berman tossed to Brianna Keilar, here's what she said:

KEILAR: When you think of a document dump like this, you normally think of, uh, in a way, sort of having something to hide. But the Clinton campaign trying to make the point that they're putting out this information and they're trying to be very transparent.

Talk about the Clinton rules! Hillary Clinton releases nearly a decade's worth of tax records, and the first thing that pops into Keilar's mind is that this is probably an effort to hide something. But hey! Let's be fair. The Clinton campaign says it's actually so that people can see her tax records. But they would say that, wouldn't they?

Unbelievable. If any other candidate released eight years of tax records, it would be reported as the candidate releasing eight years of tax records. But when Hillary does it, there's very likely something nefarious going on. God help us.

Huckabee Says He'd Consider Using Federal Troops to Stop Abortions

| Fri Jul. 31, 2015 4:48 PM EDT

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told supporters in Iowa on Thursday that if he were elected president he would consider using the FBI or National Guard to end abortion by force. Per the Topeka Capital-Journal:

"I will not pretend there is nothing we can do to stop this," Huckabee said at the event, where a Topeka Capital-Journal correspondent was present.

At his next stop, in Rockwell City, Huckabee answered follow-up questions from the correspondent, saying: "All American citizens should be protected."

Asked by another reporter how he would stop abortion, and whether this would mean using the FBI or federal forces to accomplish this, Huckabee replied: "We'll see if I get to be president."

That's crazy. The right to an abortion has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Huckabee is saying he might simply disregard the judicial branch and stop the practice unilaterally—that is, he'd remove the checks from "checks and balances." It's not the first time he's proposed a constitutional crisis as an antidote to things he doesn't like. Huckabee has also said states should practice civil disobedience by ignoring the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage.

And to think, we're still nearly a week away from the first primary debate.

Friday Cat Blogging - 31 July 2015

| Fri Jul. 31, 2015 2:50 PM EDT

Hopper (left) and Hilbert are so entranced by something or other that even my sister wants to know what they're looking at. My guess: a dust mote in the cat dimension.

Speaking of my sister, she is promising some guest cat blogging for next week. Will she come through? Tune in next Friday to find out!

The HPV Vaccine Prevents Cancer. So Why Aren't Most Teens Getting It?

| Fri Jul. 31, 2015 2:37 PM EDT

According to latest National Immunization Survey, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday, around 60 percent of teenage girls and 78 percent of teenage boys haven't received all three of the recommended doses of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which helps prevent reproductive cancers and genital warts caused by the virus.

One in every 100 people infected with HPV will develop genital warts, and 23,000 are diagnosed with HPV-caused cancers each year.

Administered through three shots over a six month period, the vaccine protects against the most common types of the highly contagious virus, which is spread through sexual contact. Health officials recommend that adolescents receive the shots between the ages of 11 and 12 to boost the chances for immunity prior to any sexual activity, but the survey showed that 40 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 hadn't received even the first dose.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease—most people will contract one of the 40 strains at some point in their lives. Seventy-nine million people in the United States have HPV, and an additional 14 million people are infected annually. Many people don't even know they have the virus, and it often goes away on its own.

But not everyone is so lucky: One in every 100 will develop genital warts and 23,000 are diagnosed with HPV-caused cancers each year. According to the CDC, the vaccine prevents almost all pre-cancers and warts caused by the virus in both males and females. Since the first HPV vaccine was developed in 2006, the vaccine has helped reduce HPV infections among teenage girls by 56 percent—even with vaccination rates as low as they are.

Michele Bachmann claimed that the vaccine was "very dangerous" and caused "mental retardation."

Still, many parents are deciding to pass. A study published in Pediatrics in 2013 showed that the reasons most cited included unwarranted fears about vaccine safety and disbelief that their kids would be sexually active. Despite it's proven safety and effectiveness, the vaccine has become a politically divisive issue. In 2011, Texas Governor Rick Perry was the first in the country to order a mandate, sparking outrage from the religious right. During a 2011 debate, Michele Bachmann claimed that the vaccine was "very dangerous" and caused "mental retardation," and Rick Santorum called vaccine mandates, "just wrong."

HPV vaccine uptake has not kept pace with that of other adolescent vaccines and has stalled in the past few years. In 2012, only about one-third of 13- to 17-year-old girls received all three recommended doses. These levels fall considerably short of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2020 goal of having 80 percent of 13- to 15-year-old girls fully vaccinated against HPV. Immunization rates for U.S. boys are even lower than for girls. Less than 7 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 completed the series in 2012. This low rate is in large part because the ACIP recommendation for routine vaccination of boys was not made until 2011. However, it is even lower than what was observed for girls in 2007—the first year following the recommendation for females—suggesting that concerted efforts are needed to promote HPV vaccination of males. - See more at: http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/HPV/ExecutiveSummary.htm#sthash.R6gsTr6L.dpuf

The National Cancer Institute has called for an "urgency of action" in closing vaccination gaps , citing that current vaccine rates are falling short of the US Department of Health and Human Services Goal for 80 percent coverage among 13 to 15 year old girls by 2020.

Though the focus is more often on girls, men are at also risk for HPV-caused cancers, including throat cancer, which may soon replace cervical cancer as the most common caused by the virus.

The survey did show there had been big gains in some parts of the country—Illinois, Montana, North Carolina and Utah all averaged increases of roughly 20 percent—which health officials say is an encouraging sign.

"The large increases in these diverse parts of the country show us it is possible to do much better at protecting our nation's youth from cancers caused by HPV infections," Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a statement released with the report. "We are missing crucial opportunities to protect the next generation from cancers caused by HPV."

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It's Republicans, Not Obama, Who Want to Bust the Sequestration Deal

| Fri Jul. 31, 2015 2:21 PM EDT

The LA Times reports today that we might be headed for another government shutdown. Big surprise. But these paragraphs are very peculiar:

President Obama has signaled his intention to bust, once and for all, the severe 2011 spending caps known as sequestration. He's vowed to reject any GOP-backed appropriation bills that increase government funding for the military without also boosting domestic programs important to Democrats such as Head Start for preschoolers.

The Republican-controlled Congress is also digging in. Since taking control in January, GOP leaders had promised to run Congress responsibly and prevent another shutdown like the one in 2013, but their spending proposals are defying the president's veto threat by bolstering defense accounts and leaving social-welfare programs to be slashed.

It's true that Obama has proposed doing away with the sequestration caps. But his budgets have routinely been described as DOA by Republican leaders, so his plans have never gotten so much as a hearing. What's happening right now is entirely different. Republicans are claiming they want to keep the sequestration deal, but they don't like the fact that back in 2011 they agreed it would cut domestic and military spending equally. Instead, Republicans now want to increase military spending and decrease domestic spending. They're doing this by putting the additional defense money into an "emergency war-spending account," which technically allows them to get around the sequester caps. Unsurprisingly, Obama's not buying it.

So how does this count as Obama planning to "bust" the sequestration caps? I don't get it. It sounds like Obama is willing to stick to the original deal if he has to, but he's quite naturally insisting that this means sticking to the entire deal. It's Republicans who are trying to renege. What am I missing here?

A Supermarket Tabloid Company is Funding Chris Christie's Super PAC

| Fri Jul. 31, 2015 1:06 PM EDT

The pro-Chris Christie super-PAC America Leads raised $11 million in the first quarter of 2015, according to filings released by the Federal Election Commission on Friday. Controversial hedge-fund manager Steven A. Cohen gave $1 million. Cleveland Cavaliers owner (and Quicken Loans chief) Dan Gilbert gave $750,000. Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone and WWE magnate Linda McMahon each dropped $250,000. New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon dropped $100,000 that his team's fans dearly wish he'd spent on an outfielder.

Oh, and it's hardly the biggest donation on the list, but America Leads also got $10,000 from an unusual source—a media company. The check came from American Media Inc., the parent company of supermarket tabloids like the National Enquirer, OK!, and Star; and fitness publications like Men's Fitness, Muscle & Fitness; and Flex. What's the Christie connection? In June, the governor named American Media Inc.'s chairman, David Pecker, to his presidential leadership team.

We can't speak for Flex, but the normally scandal-happy Enquirer has been bullish about Christie's chances. Last April, it published an "EXCLUSIVE!" boasting that the governor's White House dreams were "alive" because "American politics is full of comeback stories." And in February, it published another item touting Christie's chances despite "hatchet job" corruption claims.

California Really Doesn't Need to Worry About Losing Jobs to Texas

| Fri Jul. 31, 2015 12:54 PM EDT

Is California losing jobs to Texas, thanks to California's stringent anti-business regulations vs. Texas's wide-open business-friendly environment? It's a question I have only a modest interest in, since there are lots of reasons for states to gain or lose business. California has nice weather. Texas has cheap housing. Recessions hit different states at different times and with different intensities. Business regulations might be part of the mix, but it's all but impossible to say how much.

But now I care even less. Lyman Stone ran some numbers and confirmed that, in fact, California has been losing jobs and Texas has been gaining jobs over the past couple of decades. But by itself that isn't very interesting. The real question is, how many jobs? Here is Stone's chart:

Stone comments: "Net migration isn’t 1% or 2%. It’s plus or minus 0.05% in most cases. Even as a share of total change in employment, migration is massively overwhelmed by employment changes due to local startups and closures, and local expansions and contractions. The truth is, net employment changes due to firm migration are within the rounding error of total employment. Over time they may matter, but overall they’re pretty miniscule."

What's more, these numbers are for migration to and from every state in the union. They're far smaller if you look solely at California-Texas migration.

Bottom line: An almost invisible number of workers are migrating from California to Texas each year due to firm relocation, probably less than .02 percent. The share of that due to burdensome business regulation is even less, probably no more than .01 percent. That's so small it belongs in the "Other" category of any employment analysis. No matter how you look at it, this is just not a big deal.

UPDATE: In a Twitter conversation, Stone makes it clear that this is solely a look at job migration tied to firm relocation. The idea is to test the theory that Texas is "poaching" companies from California thanks to its anti-business climate, and it seems pretty clear that this just isn't happening in numbers large enough to be noticeable.

There are lots of other things to say about this, including the number of new startup firms in each state, where existing firms choose to expand, and so forth. Those would be interesting things to look at, but for another day. This is strictly a look at the supposed poaching phenomenon.

The New York Times Needs to do a Better Job of Explaining Its Epic Hillary Clinton Screw-Up

| Fri Jul. 31, 2015 10:27 AM EDT

As you probably know, the New York Times screwed up epically last week by publishing a story claiming that Hillary Clinton was the target of a criminal probe over the mishandling of classified information in her private email system. In the end, virtually everything about the story turned out to be wrong. Clinton was not a target. The referral was not criminal. The emails in question had not been classified at the time Clinton saw them. When the dust settled, it appeared that the whole thing was little more than a squabble between State and CIA over whether certain emails that State is releasing to the public should or shouldn't be classified. In other words, just your garden-variety bureaucratic dispute. Hardly worth a blurb on A17, let alone a screaming headline on the front page.

The Clinton campaign has now officially asked the Times to account for how it could have bollixed this story so badly. Here are the most interesting paragraphs:

Times' editors have attempted to explain these errors by claiming the fault for the misreporting resided with a Justice Department official whom other news outlets cited as confirming the Times' report after the fact. This suggestion does not add up. It is our understanding that this Justice Department official was not the original source of the Times' tip. Moreover, notwithstanding the official's inaccurate characterization of the referral as criminal in nature, this official does not appear to have told the Times that Mrs. Clinton was the target of that referral, as the paper falsely reported in its original story.

This raises the question of what other sources the Times may have relied on for its initial report. It clearly was not either of the referring officials — that is, the Inspectors General of either the State Department or intelligence agencies — since the Times' sources apparently lacked firsthand knowledge of the referral documents. It also seems unlikely the source could have been anyone affiliated with those offices, as it defies logic that anyone so closely involved could have so severely garbled the description of the referral.

Yes indeedy. Who was the person who first tipped off the Times reporters? And does that source still deserve anonymity? Clinton's letter seems to be pretty clearly implying that it might have been Trey Gowdy or someone on his staff, who are currently running the Benghazi investigation that's recently morphed into a Hillary Clinton witch hunt. Apparently they knew about this DOJ referral a day before the Times story ran, so maybe they're the ones who passed along the garbled version.

The Clinton campaign can't say that, of course, since they have no proof. Neither do I. But it sure seems to be the plain implication of their response. Pretty clearly, someone who didn't have direct access to the referral—but knew of its existence—was the original source, and it's a pretty good guess that this source was someone unfriendly to Clinton. In other words, someone whose word shouldn't have been accepted without the most stringent due diligence.

But when you get oppo research, it's a pretty good bet that others are getting it too. So you have to publish quickly if you want to be first. But that's not all: you also have to be pretty willing to accept dirt on Hillary Clinton at face value and you have to care more about being first than being right. The authors of the story, Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo, really ought to address these issues in public at a press conference. After all, the press loves press conferences, right?