FBI Director James Comey has been fired. Why? The White House hasn't said, but it seems to be linked to Comey's bungled testimony to Congress regarding the number of emails Huma Abedin forwarded to her husband, and more generally to Comey's handling of the Clinton email investigation during the 2016 campaign. This is what got President Trump elected, so there's zero chance he actually cares about it. But I suppose it's as good an excuse as any.

So what's the real reason? Well...the FBI is investigating the ties between Russia and Trump's campaign. If I were president while that was going on, I probably wouldn't want someone running the agency who was eager to prove that he could get tough on my party too. Much better to have a friendly face running things. I imagine that Trump feels the same way.

Lunchtime Photo

This is one of our monarch butterflies. We only have three or four, but it's always nice when one of them makes an appearance in the garden and flits around for a while.

BTW, this is an example of a picture I couldn't have taken with my old camera. It only allowed me to focus this close with the zoom set to its shortest focal length, which meant I'd have to be about six inches away. There's no way the butterfly would have stuck around for that. But the Lumix allows me to focus pretty close even when the zoom is out to 100-200mm. I took this from a foot or two away, which was just far enough not to spook the butterfly into flight or flight mode.

Apparently we are going to stay in Afghanistan forever. If we leave, the Taliban will likely take over large swaths of the country—if not the entire place—and no president wants to be in office when that happens. But neither can we "win." So we just keep announcing the same old plan: send in more troops. Here's the latest:

Senior Trump administration and military officials are recommending sending several thousand additional American troops to Afghanistan to try to break a military deadlock in the 15-year war there, in part by pressuring the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

....American officials said that 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops, including hundreds of Special Operations forces, could be sent....NATO nations would also be asked to send thousands of troops, and the precise number of American forces deployed would probably depend on what those allies were prepared to do.

Is this a joke? We've been fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for more than 15 years and we're once again pretending that adding a few more troops will break that 15-year stalemate? Here's what troop levels have looked like in Afghanistan since the war started:

The official story is that Trump's little uptick will be the final straw that panics the Taliban into serious negotiations. I would sure like to hear someone defend this fanciful notion with a straight face.

Last week, FBI Director James Comey testified that Huma Abedin, one of Hillary Clinton's closest aides, had forwarded "hundreds and thousands" of emails to her idiot husband so that he could print them out. Conservatives crowed. It was just another example of the slack attitude toward national security among Clinton and her inner circle.

Except ProPublica reports that it wasn't:

FBI officials have privately acknowledged that Comey misstated what Abedin did and what the FBI investigators found. On Monday, the FBI was said to be preparing to correct the record by sending a letter to Congress later this week. But that plan now appears on hold, with the bureau undecided about what to do.

....According to two sources familiar with the matter — including one in law enforcement — Abedin forwarded only a handful of Clinton emails to her husband for printing — not the “hundreds and thousands” cited by Comey. It does not appear Abedin made “a regular practice” of doing so. Other officials said it was likely that most of the emails got onto the computer as a result of backups of her Blackberry.

Oops. Accidents happen. It is remarkable, though, that in Comey's case these decisions about what to say and what to withhold invariably hurt Democrats and help Republicans. How often can this happen before everyone stops believing it's just a coincidence from this honorably-intentioned man?

Yesterday I wondered what kind of progress the Trump administration had made on its new immigration rules. They ought to be nearly finished by now, making the court case over Trump's executive order moot. Well, it turns out the judges in that case had the same question:

During Monday's hearing, judges also questioned the government about the status of its review of immigration vetting procedures. Why does the Trump administration continue insisting on 90- and 120-day travel suspensions, they asked, if it's already had so much time to improve vetting procedures? Judge Stephanie Thacker said the portion of Trump's order calling for a vetting review was in place for nearly two months.

"Was any vetting (review) done in those 50 days?" she said.

Wall said government attorneys have interpreted court rulings as barring them from doing so.

"We've put our pens down," he said. "We haven't done any work on it."

The earlier stays of the EO obviously don't bar the government from working on new immigration rules. I'm not even sure a court could do that. This is a childish excuse, but that's the one they're going with.

Trump's contempt for the American public here is breathtaking. Keep in mind that this is supposedly a matter of grave national security, which is why the first EO had to be issued without any warning. But now Trump is treating it like a schoolyard game: if the courts won't let him have his way, he's taking his ball and going home. And if some visitor from Yemen ends up killing a bunch of people, well, maybe next time we'll listen to him.

There aren't a lot of alternatives here. The first is that Trump believes his immigration order is a serious matter of national security, but he doesn't care about national security as much as does about winning a court case. The second is that Trump never believed it mattered much, but implemented it in the most chaotic way possible as a PR stunt. Either way it's revolting.

We didn't really learn anything new in today's congressional hearing, but the questioning did highlight one of the ugliest aspects of the Flynn affair. Sally Yates testified that she informed White House counsel on January 26 that Mike Flynn had lied about his contacts with the Russians and that he was vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians. "To state the obvious," Yates said, "you don't want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians."

For 18 days, President Trump didn't do anything. Nor did he give any sign that he ever planned to do anything. It was only after Flynn's actions became public, via a leak to the Washington Post, that Trump finally fired him.

He's never explained why he didn't fire Flynn immediately. Richard Nixon had his 18-minute gap, and now Trump has an 18-day gap. Instead of grousing endlessly about the leak, Trump should tell us if he would have kept a security risk like Flynn in his inner circle forever if the leak had never happened.

Oh man, this cracks me up. This whole Russia thing is really getting inside President Trump's OODA loop. After today's congressional hearing, he was hellbent on making sure everyone knew that James Clapper had said there was "no evidence" of collusion between Trump and Russia. Clapper didn't quite say that, actually, but Trump didn't care. He ordered his staff to change his Twitter picture pronto. So they did. Now it looks like this:

You might be able to see the whole message on a different monitor, or if you fiddle around with the width of your browser window. But probably not. What a bunch of doofuses.

As you may know, the New York Times hired Bret Stephens a couple of weeks ago as a new columnist on their op-ed page. Stephens is a conservative who previously worked at the Wall Street Journal, and he's a climate...something. Climate denier? Climate skeptic? In the past he was probably closer to being a denier, but these days he's softened and is now a skeptic.

In any case, his hiring set off a wave of outrage among progressives. But I sort of shrugged. The guy's a Pulitzer Prize winner, after all, and being a climate skeptic is practically a guild requirement among conservatives. If you don't allow climate skeptics on your op-ed page, you're going to have a hard time finding any conservative voices.

Then he wrote his first column, and he jumped straight into the maw. It was a pretty bad column, basically saying that, hey, scientists have been wrong before, so maybe they're wrong this time. That was it—except for a single factual statement, which he botched and had to have corrected. I sighed. Can't we just change the subject to how tax cuts always pay for themselves?

No we can't. Stephens' second column was about climate change again. It was essentially a variant of the first column: sometimes scientists have been wrong about how to reduce greenhouse gases, so maybe they're still wrong and we don't even know how to do it. This is tedious, lazy, and sloppy, but it turns out it was more than that. One of his exhibits was Germany's nationwide effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It's been a failure:

Yikes. As Stephens says, "emissions are almost exactly what they were in 2009."

But wait. Remember those global warming charts that carefully started in the year 1998, an unusually warm El Niño year, to show that warming had stopped dead in its tracks? That was literally the only starting year that gave this illusion, and climate deniers gleefully used it for over a decade until they finally had to stop thanks to the warming of the past few years, which smashed past all the old records.

Well, James Wimberley points out that Stephens did the same thing: he started with the Great Recession year of 2009, when GHG emissions were unusually low. Here's the full run of data since 1990:

As you can see, 2009 is literally the only year that gives the illusion of Germany making no progress. So that's the year he used. This is yahoo hucksterism at its worst.

It's also something that columnists imbibe with the drinking water at the Journal editorial page. Hardly a piece goes by that doesn't include some kind of egregious statistical flim-flam. This points toward the real mistake the New York Times made. It's not that they hired a climate skeptic. You can hardly avoid that among conservatives these days. The real mistake is that they imported the ethics of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. I don't know if you can train that out of a person once they've spent more than a decade there.

Lunchtime Photo

The Angel Motel in Orange, California.

Max Ehrenfreund points us today to a new paper by a quartet of researchers that looks at lifetime incomes of various age groups. They find that middle-class income has stagnated and income inequality has gone up over the past few decades. None of that should come as a surprise.

But there's an interesting twist. Here's their key chart for men. It's busy and intimidating looking, but don't worry. It will all make sense.

First off, look at the pink circles at the bottom. Those show the earnings of 25-year-old men who are just entering the labor market. Starting around 1973, their earnings began to plummet, from $35,000 to $25,000.

Now look at the gray diamonds at the top. Those show the earnings of 55-year-old men. They've gone up and down, but basically have stayed right around $55,000 the whole time.

In other words, the decline in lifetime earnings among men is almost entirely because the average earnings of young men have declined. They end up at the same place as earlier cohorts by the time they retire, but they never make up for the dismal earnings of the first ten or fifteen years of their working careers.

Don't get too hung up on the precise numbers here. The authors use Social Security data, which they show is roughly equivalent to overall income data. However, if you use different data, or different measures of inflation, or different measures of income that include health benefits, you'll get somewhat different results. However, the basic stagnation picture doesn't change, and the difference between the earnings of young and old don't change.

If this data is accurate, it means that we have one big cohort—roughly 25 to 40 years old—that's struggling worse and worse every year, and another big cohort—roughly 40 to 65 years old—that's stagnating but not declining. To the extent that economic stress among men helped power Donald Trump to the White House, it's that younger cohort that should have done it. And this is indeed the cohort that Hillary Clinton struggled with the most.