Over at the Intercept, Josh Begley has a story that's disturbing—but not in the usual Intercept way:

Five years ago, I made a simple iPhone app. It would send you a push notification every time a U.S. drone strike was reported in the news. Apple rejected the app three times, calling it “excessively objectionable or crude content.”

....In 2014, after five rejections, Apple accepted the app....But the following September, Apple decided to delete the app entirely. They claimed that the content, once again, was “excessively objectionable or crude.”...Well, Apple’s position has evolved. Today, after 12 attempts, the Metadata app is back in the App Store.

....Update: 2:32pm. Apple has removed Metadata from the App Store.

There is, needless to say, nothing objectionable or crude about this app. It merely aggregates news on a particular subject. Drone strikes themselves may be objectionable and crude—opinions differ, obviously—but reporting on them isn't.

This matters. Upwards of half of all Americans get some or most of their news from their mobile devices, and for all practical purposes there are only two options in the mobile device world: iOS and Android. If you can't get an app accepted on either platform, then no one will ever see your app. Apple and Google are the sole gateways to what we can and can't see.

Now, there are obviously other ways of getting the news. There may even be a website that aggregates drone news the same way Begley's app does. Still, there's no question that an app can do things a news site can't. It can make the news more immediate. It can make sure you don't miss anything. It can allow you to share more easily with fellow activists.

When Google and Apple are just keeping out porn sites, no one really cares. Even when they're nixing apps that happen to compete with Apple or Google, people mostly shrug. But when they start censoring apps based on their news content, we're in trouble. If there were dozens of mobile platforms, and none of them had a big market share, it might not matter too much. Competition would probably sort things out. But when there are only two, it matters a lot. There may still be plenty of news outlets, but in a real-world sense we're increasingly outsourcing our news to a tiny number of players—mostly Apple, Google, and Facebook. We may wake up some morning and be sorry we did that.

Prime Minister Theresa May submitted an official notice today the Great Britain will be exiting the European Union:

Now that Prime Minister May has officially given notice to Tusk, the next step is to begin negotiations about the negotiations. In about a month, the UK and EU will formally sit down to come to terms on how the negotiations will work.

“Most of the formal stuff that will be agreed upon in the big meetings has already been penciled in,” Tim Oliver, an expert on the EU at the London School of Economics, tells me....Ultimately, Oliver believes, “nothing substantive” will be agreed upon until after the French presidential election in April and the German parliamentary election in late September. That’s because the French and Germans are, by far, the two most important EU member states. Without a firm sense of who their leaders will be in the coming years, it will be impossible to know what terms the EU might agree to.

In other words, nothing really happens for the next six months. And that's totally OK because, hey, that still leaves 18 months to negotiate the biggest, messiest divorce in treaty history. Plenty of time. No need for any sense of urgency here.

Remember the undercover Planned Parenthood videos that caused such a fuss last year? Their creators, David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, are back in the news:

Two antiabortion activists whose controversial undercover videos accused Planned Parenthood doctors of selling fetal tissue were charged Tuesday with more than a dozen felonies by California prosecutors.

....Prosecutors contend Daleiden and Merritt used fake identities and a fabricated medical research company, BioMax Procurement Services, to secure the meetings with healthcare providers, according to court papers filed in San Francisco Superior Court. Prosecutors also contend they made secret recordings of attendees and speakers at the National Abortion Federation’s 2014 conference in San Francisco.

I continue to have zero sympathy for these two. They edited their videos deceptively and basically lied about everything they did. Nevertheless, I don't like the idea of prosecuting them. This was a legitimate investigation, and no level of government should be in the business of chilling it. The First Amendment doesn't say anything one way or the other about how honest one's speech has to be.

This also strikes me as political grandstanding. I imagine that if this were a couple of liberal activists secretly recording meetings with anti-immigration groups, Attorney General Xavier Becerra wouldn't so eager to go after them.

Needless to say, I Am Not A Lawyer, and there might be a good case that they broke California law. If they did, though, so much the worse for California law.

Not satisfied with proposing $54 billion in domestic spending cuts for next year, today President Trump asked Congress to cut $18 billion in what's left of the current fiscal year:

The White House is asking Congress to cut $18 billion from discretionary spending bills for the current fiscal year that have been long settled — a move that could threaten a major showdown just a month ahead of the deadline to keep the government funded....The $17.94 billion cut would help pay for Trump’s military supplemental request, which was sent to Congress earlier this month. About $2 billion would also go towards Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border.

This is yet another half-baked Trump idea, and it's the last thing Congress needs on its plate right now. Health care failed because they tried to rush it through, and now they have a grand total of 65 legislative days to work on tax reform and finish up the budget for next year. They really can't afford to waste their time on dumb stuff like this.

Aside from that, I continue to be perplexed about this whole thing. These cuts are supposed to pay for Trump's $30 billion supplemental military request, $25 billion of which is targeted for the Pentagon's base budget. But Congress can't do that. The sequester caps prevent it, and there's no way to increase the caps without Democratic cooperation. John Boehner struck a bipartisan deal to do that in 2015, but there's no way Republicans are going to get a similar deal while also proposing whopping big domestic cuts.

The same is true of Trump's proposal to increase military spending $54 billion next year. So what's the point of all this? I can think of three basic scenarios that Trump might be hoping for:

  1. Ask for the extra $54 billion in military spending, and then settle for less by agreeing to smaller cuts in domestic spending.
  2. Do a deal with Democrats that increases both military and domestic spending, but increases military spending more.
  3. Same as #2, but also kills sequester caps permanently.

None of these seem especially likely, and only #2 seems even remotely within the realm of the plausible. The Democratic position right now is that they'll increase military spending caps only if domestic caps are raised by the same amount. They might agree to a smaller increase for domestic spending, but there's no chance they'll go any further. Why should they? Trump really doesn't have any leverage here.

One possibility, of course, is that Congress will put all $54 billion into the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which isn't affected by the sequester caps. But if that's the plan, why not propose the same thing for this year's request? Am I missing something?

Lunchtime Photo

This is our new Hello Kitty Cafe at the Spectrum shopping center. You're jealous, aren't you? You wish you had a Hello Kitty Cafe.

This picture was taken shortly before I was kicked off the property.1 Snapping pictures with cell phones is fine, it turns out, but the security guards are told to watch out for anyone with a "high end" camera. No management pass, no picture taking.

1Not really kicked off, actually. Just told to stop taking pictures by the security guard, who was very nice. But there was no point in staying if I couldn't take any pictures.

Roger Cohen writes about the Trump-Merkel meeting a couple of weeks ago:

When Donald Trump met Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany earlier this month, he put on one of his most truculent and ignorant performances. He wanted money—piles of it—for Germany's defense, raged about the financial killing China was making from last year's Paris climate accord and kept "frequently and brutally changing the subject when not interested, which was the case with the European Union."

…Trump's preparedness was roughly that of a fourth grader…Trump knew nothing of the proposed European-American deal known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, little about Russian aggression in Ukraine or the Minsk agreements, and was so scatterbrained that German officials concluded that the president's daughter Ivanka, who had no formal reason to be there, was the more prepared and helpful.

Merkel is not one to fuss. But Trump's behavior appalled her entourage and reinforced a conclusion already reached about this presidency in several European capitals: It is possible to do business with Trump's national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but these officials are flying blind because above them at the White House rages a whirlwind of incompetence and ignorance.

I'm sure glad that Republicans are restoring the respect for America that we lost after eight years of that empty suit Barack Obama.

It's been one of those mornings. My best source to capture the flavor of the news today is my Twitter feed. In no particular order:

Um, sure, except that Nunes won't show us the substance of the leak and misled everyone about where it came from. Other than that, spot on. And as long as we're on the subject of Nunes:

Back to the White House now. Here is April Ryan, Washington Bureau Chief for American Urban Radio Networks:

Huh? What's that about? Oh:

Got anything else for us today, Sean?

Roger that. Let's move on to someone else in the White House:

So they've moved on from denying climate change, and are now denying that they're even aware of what scientists say about climate change. Where are they going to be by 2020?

Finally, on a completely different subject:

Unfortunately, yes, I think it is.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee, has called for Devin Nunes to recuse himself from further involvement in the Russia probe. This comes after Nunes' bizarre unveiling of supposed evidence that the Obama White House really did surveil Trump aides during the transition. Nunes still hasn't shown his evidence to anyone, and it appears increasingly likely that it doesn't really show anything at all. Nor will he tell us who he met with on the White House grounds to procure his evidence. Here is Michael Isikoff:

The Schiff statement came as panel staffers speculated on the possible identity of Nunes’ White House source, focusing on Michael Ellis, a lawyer who worked for Nunes on the intelligence panel and who was recently hired to work on national security matters at the White House counsel’s office. A White House official and spokesman for Nunes declined to comment on whether Ellis was involved in providing information to Nunes, as did a spokesman for Schiff. White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted that White House officials were not aware of Nunes’ secret trip to meet his source and referred all questions to Nunes’ office.

Democrats have been furious that Nunes has yet to describe precisely the classified intelligence he has seen. Nor has he shared any documents with others on the House intelligence panel. Nunes, for his part, defended his previously undisclosed trip to the White House grounds, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he had to view the classified documents in an executive branch location because the intelligence community had not yet provided them to Congress.

Michael Ellis is a former editor-in-chief of the Dartmouth Review and a longtime "promising young conservative." Sadly, he's not related to the Ellis side of the Bush family, which would have been great.

One of my complaints about Hillary Clinton during the email affair was the fact that she sometimes acted guilty even when she wasn't. Now it's Donald Trump's turn. Here is the Washington Post today:

The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying to Congress in the House investigation of links between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, The Washington Post has learned, a position that is likely to further anger Democrats who have accused Republicans of trying to damage the inquiry.

....Yates and another witness at the planned hearing, former CIA director John Brennan, had made clear to government officials by Thursday that their testimony to the committee probably would contradict some statements that White House officials had made, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The following day, when Yates’s lawyer sent a letter to the White House indicating that she still wanted to testify, the hearing was canceled.

Yates, you'll recall, was the acting attorney general left over from the Obama administration who Trump fired for refusing to defend his first immigration order in court.

This whole Russia thing is crazy. Whenever I start believing there's really something there, I feel like I'm turning into a nutball conspiracy theorist. But if there isn't anything there, it's plenty odd that the Trump team keeps acting as if there were.

I'm a big fan of higher capital ratios (i.e., lower leverage) as a way of making the banking system safer, so I was disturbed when Tyler Cowen pointed to a new paper suggesting that high capital ratios don't reduce the likelihood of financial crises. Instead, a team of researchers suggests that what's more important is the type of capital a bank has. Deposits are the most stable source of funding for any bank, and liquidity is king. Put these together, and what's important is the loan-to-deposit ratio:

As you can see, the LtD ratio rose steadily in the postwar era, doubling from 50 percent to over 100 percent by 2008. This indicates that credit was expanding, with banks making more loans for every dollar in deposits they took in. This, the authors say, is a better predictor of financial crises than raw leverage:

In this triptych, capital ratios are in the middle, and they don't change much before and after a financial crisis (denoted by Year 0). However, right before a financial crisis there's a steady decline in deposits as a percentage of total assets (which indicates a decline in the quality an;d stability of a bank's capital base) and a steady rise in the loan-to-deposit ratio. These are the indicators that seem to be associated with financial crises.

So is there any point to higher capital standards? Yes indeed: they may not prevent financial crises, but they make recovery from a financial crisis much quicker. Just compare the green line and the red line in the charts below:

Both of these charts show the same thing: in countries with higher capital ratios, recovery from a financial crisis was far faster. Five years out, the difference was a full 13 percentage points of GDP per capita.

If these researchers are right—and I'll add the usual caveats about this being only one study etc.—then the key to a strong, resilient banking system is twofold: a low loan-to-deposit ratio produces a liquid capital base that helps avoid financial crises, while a low leverage ratio produces the necessary capital to recover quickly if a financial crisis hits anyway.

Leverage and liquidity are key. In one sense, this is nothing new, since anyone could have told you that. But this paper suggests that they're important for slightly different reasons than we thought.