Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Quote of the Day: Lead? What Lead? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Well, we've now officially gone from this:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Clinton proposes goal of ending lead exposure in 5 years</p> &mdash; Ben Adler (@badler) <a href="">April 13, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>To this:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Pruitt on lead exposure's dangers in children: "I don't know. I've not looked at the scientific research on that."</p> &mdash; Rebecca Leber (@rebleber) <a href="">January 18, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>If Pruitt had been asked about the effects of zirconium dioxide on Alzheimer's disease or something, then sure. Nobody knows everything, after all. But lead paint has been in the news for something like 50 years now and Flint's water pipes have been in big, bold headlines for the past two. You'd have to work pretty hard not to be aware of what lead does.</p> <p>Still, if you're bound and determined never to regulate anything, no matter how dangerous, then I suppose it pays to aggressively shut your eyes to environmental dangers of all kinds. Welcome to the New Model EPA, folks.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 18 Jan 2017 17:27:02 +0000 Kevin Drum 323456 at Inflation Surges Above 2%, US Is Doomed <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Well, this is it, boys and girls. We're doomed:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_inflation_2016_december.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>The Consumer Price Index has breached 2 percent for one month, which means hyperinflation is right around the corner. The Fed must act!</p> <p>Never mind that the Fed doesn't care about the CPI and pays attention to the PCE inflation index, which is well below 2 percent. Or that they <em>really</em> pay attention to the core PCE, which is also well below 2 percent. Inflation is always and everywhere ready to devour us.</p> <p>Sarcasm aside, it is a little odd that the CPI and PCE went in opposite directions in November. I'll be curious to see if that continues when we get the December PCE numbers.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 18 Jan 2017 17:02:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 323451 at Donald Trump Is Already Campaigning For 2020 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I mentioned in passing <a href="" target="_blank">yesterday</a> that Donald Trump's tweets aren't meant for the press or for Congress or for people like you and me. They're meant for his fans. Today brings a pretty good example of this:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">With all of the jobs I am bringing back into the U.S. (even before taking office), with all of the new auto plants coming back into our.....</p> &mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="">January 17, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">country and with the massive cost reductions I have negotiated on military purchases and more, I believe the people are seeing "big stuff."</p> &mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="">January 17, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>This is obviously laughable. Even if you take Trump at face value, he's been responsible for no more than a tiny handful of jobs, and he hasn't negotiated a lower price on anything yet, let alone "massive" cost reductions on military purchases. So why bother tweeting something that makes him look ridiculous?</p> <p>Because he needs his supporters to continue thinking he's a miracle worker. To them, this tweet is a simple progress report. Even if anyone bothers fact checking it, they'll never see it. All they see is Trump keeping them apprised of the tremendous progress he's making in draining the swamp and bending Washington to his will.</p> <p>But surely he can't keep this up for multiple years, can he? At some point, after all, even people who don't pay much attention to the news will eventually realize there's a disconnect between reality and Trump's big talk. Then they'll start to see Trump for the empty hustler he is. Right?</p> <p>This is the $64,000 question. I wish I knew the answer. For now, I'll just say that I'm not sure. A lot of it depends on events, of course, and a lot of it depends on how successful Trump is at blaming other people for everything that goes wrong. Depending on circumstances, it's possible that the true believers will stay on board forever, even if he shoots someone on Fifth Avenue.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 18 Jan 2017 02:54:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 323421 at Seven Years Is Enough: Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Prison Sentence <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>President Obama announced today that he is commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who has spent nearly seven years in prison for leaking thousands of classified documents when she was stationed in Iraq as an intelligence analyst in 2010. She will be freed in May. James Joyner is not pleased:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Manning certainly more deserving of sympathy than Snowden. OTOH, WH argument cuts both ways. This is big FU to the military justice system. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; James Joyner (@DrJJoyner) <a href="">January 17, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>This is just not right. Obama has commuted hundreds of sentences, as have previous presidents. By definition, these are acts of mercy that explicitly reduce a sentence imposed by the justice system. His commutation of Manning's sentence is no more a big FU to the military justice system than his other commutations are big FUs to the civilian justice system.</p> <p>What's more, there are several reasons to believe that Manning deserves this show of mercy. She released only low-level documents, not top secret ones. She was clearly in a good deal of mental distress when she did it. And she pleaded guilty to most of the charges and apologized publicly for her actions.</p> <p>The biggest disconnect between those who approve of her commutation and those who don't is undoubtedly a simple difference of opinion about how serious her crimes were. But there's another disconnect that's less obvious because so many of us barely even notice it anymore: the United States is a wild outlier when it comes to the length of prison sentences. Manning was sentenced to <em>35 years in prison</em>. A lot of people will shrug when they read that, but it's insane by any kind of global standard. We hand out 15 and 20-year sentences like candy in America, while the rest of the world considers 5-10 years a severe sentence for anyone short of a serial killer.</p> <p>Chelsea Manning will end up spending seven years in prison. By any non-crazy standard, that's a very long sentence considering the circumstances of Manning's crime. I don't believe she was wrongly convicted&mdash;no government can possibly allow a soldier to expose a massive trove of state secrets without punishment&mdash;but I do believe that seven years is enough. Let it rest.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 17 Jan 2017 22:26:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 323396 at Obamacare Approval Hasn't Suddenly Spiked in the Past Month <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A new poll from NBC and the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> is getting some attention today for showing <a href="" target="_blank">a big jump in support for Obamacare</a> now that Republicans are talking about getting rid of it. But this poll shows less than it seems. The last time it was taken was March 2015, so all it tells us is that one poll shows an increase in approval sometime over the past two years. For comparison, here's the NBC/WSJ poll overlaid on the monthly Kaiser tracking poll:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obamacare_approval_nbc_kaiser_0.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>The Kaiser poll shows roughly a two-point increase over the past two years, all of it coming in the fall of 2016. Will it show another increase in January? Maybe, but we'll have to wait and see.</p> <p>In the meantime, the NBC/WSJ poll tells us very little. It doesn't show any kind of increase in the past month, just an increase over the past two years. And even that might be an artifact of sampling error in its March 2015 poll. I'm just as eager to see an increase in public approval of Obamacare as anybody, but the NBC/WSJ poll literally tells us nothing about the past month or two. In another few weeks both Gallup and Kaiser should give us some real data to chew on.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 17 Jan 2017 19:34:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 323361 at Please Stop Pretending that Donald Trump's Every Utterance Has Magic Powers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Yesterday Donald Trump said he thought the dollar was "too strong." Today the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> goes into overdrive to describe the effect of the great man's words:</p> <blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Trump Comments Send Dollar Reeling</strong></a></p> </blockquote> <p>Reeling! Is that true? Well, the <em>Journal's</em> own dollar index fell about 1 percent, and sure, that's a fair amount for a single day. But let's take a look at the <em>Journal's</em> index for the entire period since Trump's election:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_wsj_dollar_index_trump_election_0.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Hmmm. The dollar steadily gained strength following Trump's election based on expectations of his economic and trade policy. Then it started sliding around the start of the new year. Its latest 1 percent drop is hardly significant: it's dropped that much in a single day before, and it's still up significantly since Trump's election. And in case you're curious, here's a longer-term view:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_wsj_dollar_index_2014_2017.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>So did Trump's words have a galvanizing effect on the world's currency traders? It's possible, but we might want to wait a few days before we say so. There are other things going on in the world too, after all.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 17 Jan 2017 18:52:33 +0000 Kevin Drum 323351 at Social Media Is Best Used for Distraction, Not Argument <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The Chinese government is the acknowledged expert at authoritarian use of social media to promote party goals. So how do they do it? <a href="" target="_blank">Alex Tabarrok</a> points today to a new paper that engaged in a ton of ground-level research to come to a conclusion that shouldn't surprise anyone. <a href="" target="_blank">They don't waste their time trying to change minds:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>We estimate that the government fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year. In contrast to prior claims, we show that the Chinese regime&rsquo;s strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. We infer that <strong>the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to distract the public and change the subject,</strong> as most of the these posts involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist Party, or other symbols of the regime.</p> </blockquote> <p>As the chart at the top of this post shows, the government's social media army leaps into action at all the appropriate times, but instead of defending the party or the government, they just spend their time distracting attention onto other subjects.</p> <p>I hardly need to mention that this strategy should remind you of someone.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 17 Jan 2017 17:51:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 323331 at CBO: If Obamacare Is Repealed, Premiums Will Skyrocket and Millions Will Lose Coverage <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A few days ago Newt Gingrich wrote a jeremiad against the Congressional Budget Office, which acts as the official scorekeeper for the effect of proposed legislation. The CBO, he said, was obsolete, corrupt, left-wing, etc. etc. and simply didn't know how to account for a dynamic, entrepreneurial, red-tape-cutter like Donald Trump.</p> <p>Gingrich's real problem, of course, is that the CBO is required to stick close to reality, which means that it often produces projections and estimates that are inconvenient for Republicans. Take today, for example. Senate Democrats asked for an estimate of what would happen if Obamacare were repealed. <a href="" target="_blank">Here's the CBO's answer:</a></p> <ul><li>18 million people would lose insurance. By 2026, that would increase to 32 million.</li> <li>Premiums in the individual market would skyrocket, increasing 20-25 percent in the first year and about 50 percent by 2026.</li> <li>Insurers would exit the individual market en masse. About half the nation's population would live in areas with no individual insurers at all, rising to three-quarters by 2026.</li> </ul><p>That <em>is</em> inconvenient, isn't it? This is what happens if you eliminate Obamacare but keep in place the ban on pre-existing conditions&mdash;which Republicans all say they support and which <a href="" target="_blank">they can't repeal anyway.</a> Premiums would skyrocket, 32 million people would lose coverage, and insurers would abandon about three-quarters of the country.</p> <p>This is what Republicans need to address with their "replace" plan. But they can't do it and they know it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 17 Jan 2017 17:18:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 323321 at Even Lots of Republicans Think the Feds Should Guarantee Health Care For All <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Via Pew Research,</a> here's another reason that Republicans might have more trouble than they think repealing Obamacare:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_pew_healthcare_government_responsibility.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Republicans have been chanting "repeal and replace" for so long that people have started to believe the "replace" part. Even among Republicans, half of those with working-class incomes and a third of those with middle-class incomes believe the federal government ought to guarantee health coverage for everyone. It's only rich Republicans who are dead set against it.</p> <p>So what is Donald Trump going to do about that? Unfortunately, the answer is pretty obvious: he's going to propose a replacement plan that does hardly anything for anyone and then he's going to lie about it&mdash;loudly and relentlessly. Congressional Republicans will all join in, and the press will then report that the effect of the replacement plan is "controversial." Because, really, who can say what it does? All those numbers are pretty confusing, after all.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 17 Jan 2017 03:54:37 +0000 Kevin Drum 323306 at Donald Trump Demands an Apology From You <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Just out of curiosity, I did a quick check to see how many people/organizations Donald Trump has demanded an apology from since he began his presidential campaign. The answer is 21:</p> <ul><li>Intelligence chiefs</li> <li>Cast and producers of Hamilton</li> <li>Mika Brzezinski</li> <li>The media</li> <li>Ruth Bader Ginsburg</li> <li>CNN</li> <li>Wall Street Journal</li> <li>Vicente Fox</li> <li>Mark Halperin</li> <li>Hillary Clinton</li> <li>Rachel Maddow</li> <li>Chuck Todd</li> <li>Chris Christie</li> <li>The liberal media</li> <li>The Washington Post</li> <li>Carly Fiorina</li> <li>Fox News</li> <li>Tom Llamas</li> <li>Charles Krauthammer</li> <li>John McCain</li> <li>Univision</li> </ul><p>For a guy who never apologizes himself, he sure does demand a lot of apologies from others, doesn't he?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 16 Jan 2017 19:55:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 323301 at We've Reached #cut50 For Young Black Men <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's some good news for MLK Day. The incarceration rate for young black men is now <a href="" target="_blank">down more than half since 2001:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_nevin_black_incarceration.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 30px;"></p> <p>The not-so-good news is that this has nothing to do with better criminal justice policies or efforts to create opportunities for people of color. It's because of lead. The younger you are, the more likely you are to have grown up in a (mostly) lead-free environment, and that means you're less likely to have committed a felony or gotten sent to prison. Because prison sentences in America tend to be long, de-incarceration lags falling crime rates by a fair amount, but eventually it does catch up.</p> <p>You'll note that, generally speaking, black incarceration has fallen more than white incarceration. The reason for this is simple: <a href="" target="_blank">the biggest victims of lead poisoning in the 1960-90 era</a> were residents of urban cores, which had more lead paint and higher concentrations of gasoline lead than other areas. These residents were disproportionately black, so when lead levels went up it affected blacks more strongly than whites. But when leaded gasoline was banned and lead poisoning declined, that also affected blacks more strongly than whites. Black crime rates fell more steeply than white crime rates, and now black incarceration is falling more steeply than white incarceration.</p> <p>We're still at nothing close to parity, of course. Lead explains some things, but it doesn't explain the stain of racism and greed in men's hearts. This is America's original sin, and it will take more than an EPA regulation to overcome it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 16 Jan 2017 18:23:51 +0000 Kevin Drum 323296 at Monica Crowley Is the First Casualty of the Trump Administration <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Monica Crowley <a href="" target="_blank">won't be joining the Trump administration after all:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;After much reflection I have decided to remain in New York to pursue other opportunities and will not be taking a position in the incoming administration,&rdquo; she said in a statement. &ldquo;I greatly appreciate being asked to be part of President-elect Trump&rsquo;s team and I will continue to enthusiastically support him and his agenda for American renewal.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>I haven't bothered blogging about this, but just in case you missed the news, it turns out that Crowley is a serial plagiarist. As it happens, I have a pretty high tolerance for the kind of plagiarism that's usually involved in cases like this (a dozen lines or paragraphs that are semi-copied from other sources in a 500-page book), but it turns out that Crowley also <a href="" target="_blank">plagiarized great big chunks of her PhD dissertation.</a> That's a different thing altogether. Not only did she plagiarize <em>a lot</em>, but she did it in a setting where the whole point is to demonstrate original research and original thought. I don't know if universities can rescind a PhD, but I'll bet Columbia is looking pretty hard at doing just that.</p> <p>I doubt that either Trump or Michael Flynn cares about this, but on the other hand, they probably don't care much about Crowley either. So she's gone.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 16 Jan 2017 17:48:00 +0000 Kevin Drum 323291 at Why Do Republicans Hate Obamacare? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Why are Republicans so hellbent on repealing Obamacare? This came up on Twitter the other day, and at first it sounds like a silly question. They've been opposed to Obamacare from the start, and they've been vocal about what they don't like.</p> <p>But it's a more interesting question than it seems. After all, we no longer have to guess about its effects. We know. So let's take a look.</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>The Good.</strong> Obamacare has provided <a href="" target="_blank">more than 20 million people</a>&mdash;most of them low-income or working class&mdash;with health coverage. It has done this with no negative effects on either <a href="" target="_blank">Medicare</a> or the <a href="" target="_blank">employer health insurance market.</a> It didn't raise taxes more than a few pennies on <a href="" target="_blank">anyone making less than six figures.</a> It's had no effect on the willingness of companies to <a href="" target="_blank">hire full-time workers.</a> Health care costs under Obamacare have continued to grow at <a href="" target="_blank">very modest rates.</a> And it's accomplished all this <a href="" target="_blank">under its original budget.</a></p> <p><strong>The Bad.</strong> Obamacare unquestionably has some problems. About 20 percent of its customers choose Bronze plans with very high deductibles. Some of the least expensive plans have narrow networks that restrict your choice of doctor. Some insurers have left the exchanges because they were losing money. And premium increases have been volatile as insurers have learned the market. But <em>every one of these things</em> is a result of <a href="" target="_blank">Obamacare's reliance on private markets,</a> something that Republicans support. Insurers are competing. They're offering plans with different features at different price points. Some of them are successful and some aren't. That's how markets work. It's messy, but eventually things settle down and provide the best set of services at the best possible price.</p> <p><strong>The Popular.</strong> Obamacare is popular unless you call it "Obamacare." If you call it <a href="" target="_blank">Kynect</a>, its negatives drop. If you call it the <a href="" target="_blank">Affordable Care Act,</a> its negatives drop. If you ask about the actual things it does, <a href="" target="_blank">virtually every provision</a> is popular among Democrats and Republicans alike. Even Obamacare's taxes on the rich, which are fairly modest, are popular. Aside from the individual mandate, <em>the only truly unpopular part of Obamacare is the name "Obamacare."</em> (And even that's only unpopular among Republicans.)</p> </blockquote> <p>So why the continued rabid opposition to Obamacare? It's not because the government has taken over the health care market. On the contrary, Obamacare affects only a tiny part of the health insurance market and mostly relies on taking advantage of existing market forces. It's not because the benefits are too stingy. That's because Democrats kept funding at modest levels, something Republicans approve of. It's not because premiums are out of control. Republicans know perfectly well that premiums have simply caught up to CBO projections this year&mdash;and federal subsidies protect most people from increases anyway. It's not because everyone hates what Obamacare does. Even Republicans mostly like it. The GOP leadership in Congress could pass a virtually identical bill under a different name and it would be wildly popular.</p> <p>In the end, somehow, this really seems to be the answer:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en"><a href="">@kdrum</a> <a href="">@CitizenCohn</a> I watched it close up for a week. Sheer spite is a bigger part of it than I would've believed.</p> &mdash; Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) <a href="">January 14, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>Republicans hate the idea that we're spending money on the working class and the poor. They hate the idea that Barack Obama is responsible for a pretty successful program. They hate the idea that taxes on the wealthy went up a bit. They hate the idea that a social welfare program can do a lot of good for a lot of people at a fairly modest price.</p> <p>What kind of person hates all these things?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 16 Jan 2017 13:35:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 323281 at Donald Trump Hopes the EU Collapses <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Donald Trump is giving <a href="" target="_blank">interviews</a> this <a href="" target="_blank">weekend!</a> Here's what he has to say:</p> <ul><li>His health care plan, which is almost down to the "final strokes," will provide "insurance for everyone."</li> <li>He wants to give Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices.</li> <li>He thinks more countries will leave the EU, and that's fine with him. He believes the EU is just a Trojan Horse for German domination of trade, which makes it bad for America.</li> <li>If BMW opens a plant in Mexico, he's going to hit them with a 35 percent import tariff.</li> <li>He wants to do a deal with the Russians. Perhaps he'll lift sanctions on Russia in return for a reduction in nuclear arms.<sup>1</sup></li> <li>Jared Kushner is a genius who will negotiate peace in the Middle East.<sup>2</sup></li> <li>He's going to keep using Twitter in the White House in order to communicate directly with his fans.<sup>3</sup></li> </ul><p>I guess that's it for now. I can't wait to see Trump's health care plan, which is apparently going to provide far better coverage than Obamacare and cost a lot less. Whatever it turns out to be, I'll bet Democrats will be kicking themselves for not thinking of it first.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>So Russia gets its sanctions lifted <em>and</em> gets to save money by paring back its expensive and useless nuclear arsenal. Maybe I'm just being obtuse, but it's not clear to me what the US gets out of this deal.</p> <p><sup>2</sup>This is just a wild guess on my part, but I'll bet Kushner has never spoken to a Palestinian leader in his life and doesn't have the slightest clue what they want from any kind of peace agreement.</p> <p><sup>3</sup>This is something that too many people continue to misunderstand. Trump's tweets aren't meant for the press or for Congress or for you and me. They're meant for his true believers. You should always read them with that in mind.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 16 Jan 2017 05:49:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 323286 at Evidence of Bizarre Trump-Russia Ties Continues to Ooze Out <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>So what's new on the Trump-Russia front? First up, the <em>Independent</em> tells us that the former MI6 agent behind the now-famous dossier alleging close ties between Russia and the Trump team was dismayed that his findings didn't <a href="" target="_blank">generate more action during the presidential campaign:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Mr Steele became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. <strong>He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton&rsquo;s emails.</strong></p> <p>....By late July and early August MI6 was also receiving information about Mr Trump. By September, information to the FBI began to grow in volume: Mr Steele compiled a set of his memos into one document and passed it to his contacts at the FBI. But there seemed to be little progress in a proper inquiry into Mr Trump. The Bureau, instead, seemed to be devoting their resources in the pursuit of Hillary Clinton&rsquo;s email transgressions.</p> <p><strong>The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton.</strong> Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city.</p> </blockquote> <p>In related news, <em>BuzzFeed </em>says Israel is extremely interested in the possibility of <a href="" target="_blank">Trump-Russia ties:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;You can trust me that many intelligence agencies are trying to evaluate the extent to which Trump might have ties, or a weakness of some type, to Russia,&rdquo; one of the intelligence officers said....The officer said part of Israel&rsquo;s interest in the dossier &mdash; and in other intelligence on Trump&rsquo;s ties to Russia &mdash; <strong>stems from concern that secrets Israel shares with the Unites States might be fed to Russia.</strong></p> <p>Earlier this week, Israel&rsquo;s <em>Yediot Ahronot</em> newspaper reported that <strong>Israeli intelligence officials were questioning whether to continue sharing intelligence with the incoming Trump administration.</strong> The report said that during a recent meeting with US intelligence officials, Israel was told that the Russians had &ldquo;leverages of pressure&rdquo; to use against Trump. <em>BuzzFeed News</em> could not independently confirm that a meeting had taken place.</p> </blockquote> <p>Other reports suggest that British intelligence is thinking along the same lines as Israel. And the <em>Daily Beast</em> reports that a group dedicated to hacking the NSA and releasing its prize malware has suddenly gone out of business <a href="" target="_blank">a few days before Trump's inauguration:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Shadow Brokers emerged in August with the announcement that they&rsquo;d stolen the hacking tools used by a sophisticated computer-intrusion operation known as the Equation Group, and were putting them up for sale to the highest bidder. <strong>It was a remarkable claim, because the Equation Group is generally understood to be part of the NSA&rsquo;s elite Tailored Access Operations program.</strong></p> <p>....It soon emerged that the Shadow Brokers really had the goods....Virtually nobody, though, believed the Shadow Brokers&rsquo; claim that they were mere hackers trying to sell the exploits for a quick fortune.</p> <p>The more persuasive theory, supported by no less than Edward Snowden, is that <strong>the Shadow Brokers are one of the same Russian government hacking groups now accused of targeting the U.S. election</strong>....Under this theory, the Shadow Brokers were part of a tit-for-tat in the intelligence world. The group emerged just as the U.S. began confronting Russia over its election hacking, and then seemed to release its secrets in time with the public thrusts and parries between the two countries....<strong>Now, with a new, friendlier administration coming in, Vladimir Putin may be pressing the reset button.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>The more I read about this stuff, the harder I find it to believe. It just seems wildly ridiculous, the kind of thing that would barely pass muster on a TV potboiler, let alone in real life. The truth is that I'd probably dismiss it entirely if it weren't for the <a href="" target="_blank">vast amount</a> of <a href="" target="_blank">very public</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">very strange</a> evidence that <a href="" target="_blank">Team Trump and Team Putin are very close.</a></p> <p>I don't know. This is all completely outlandish, and I can hardly bring myself to credit it. And yet, there's an awful lot of evidence that points in the direction of it being true&mdash;or at least partly true, anyway. Strange days.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 15 Jan 2017 19:51:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 323276 at Today in Politics As I Experienced It <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>One of the benefits of being sick&mdash;oh, bollocks. There are no benefits to being sick. However, with a couple of short interludes, I slept until about 1:30 in the afternoon today, which is 4:30 for you elitist East Coasters. That means I missed the whole day. So when I finally felt well enough to reach over to the table for my tablet, I was able to take in the entire glorious panorama of 2017's first Friday the 13th all at once. I shall now present it to you approximately as I experienced it.</p> <p><strong>Donald Trump met today</strong> with Steve Harvey, Geraldo Rivera, and a physicist who says global warming is going to be good for us.</p> <p><strong>Rep. Steve King unveiled</strong> his scale model of a wall on the Mexican border:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Excellent Trump appointment for Secretary of Homeland Security, General John Kelly &amp; I discuss border security with my wall model on table. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Steve King (@SteveKingIA) <a href="">January 13, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>Very nice, don't you think? The wall is made from graham crackers spray painted gray, and the razor wire is made from dental floss rolled around an empty saran wrap tube and stiffened using egg whites. All that's missing is little tiny Mexicans on one side looking frustrated because they can no longer get into the United States.</p> <p><strong>Big banks continue to show gangbuster results</strong> on hopes that Trump and his congressional allies will <a href="" target="_blank">get rid of all those annoying regulations</a> that Obama passed after they nearly destroyed the world during the Great Crash. On the same day, Moody's reminded us what all those regulations were about when <a href="" target="_blank">it agreed to pay nearly a billion dollars</a> to settle claims over "certain statements" it made during the runup to the Great Crash.</p> <p><strong>A few days ago FBI Director James Comey</strong> refused to say if the FBI was investigating Donald Trump's ties to Russia. "I would never comment on investigations in an open forum," he said to general snickering. Still, at least this left open the possibility that he'd inform Congress in a closed session.</p> <p>No such luck&mdash;and <a href="" target="_blank">Democrats are apoplectic.</a> The <em>Huffington Post</em> collected a<a href="" target="_blank"> potpourri of comments:</a> "No credibility...disappointed, outraged...not trust him at all...great sense of disappointment." Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC News: "I think there's been a profound question raised as to whether director Comey is dealing in an evenhanded manner with the investigation of the Clinton emails and any investigation that may or may not be happening with respect to the Trump campaign."</p> <p><strong>House Republicans decided by fiat</strong> that deficit spending caused by repealing Obamacare doesn't count:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">House GOP rules package bars CBO from counting spikes in deficit spending spurred by an ACA repeal.</p> &mdash; Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) <a href="">January 5, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p><strong>However, Newt Gingrich thinks this doesn't go nearly far enough.</strong> The CBO is simply out of its depth dealing with the genius who fixed the Wollman Ice Rink thirty years ago. Trump is going to bring that same hard-charging, entrepreneurial spirit to Washington, <a href="" target="_blank">and the CBO can't deal with it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is simply incompatible with the Trump era....It is a left-wing, corrupt, bureaucratic defender of big government and liberalism. Its scoring of ObamaCare was not just wrong, it was clearly corrupt.</p> <p>....Every reform effort will get a false score from CBO. It is impossible for the current CBO to come anywhere close to an honest, accurate score of a red tape cutting, entrepreneurially hard charging system.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm pretty sure the proper translation of this is, "The CBO refuses to score massive tax cuts for the rich as deficit reducing." But maybe I'm just being cynical?</p> <p><strong>The first leg of California's bullet train</strong> will cost 50 percent more than currently budgeted, <a href="" target="_blank">according to a review by the Federal Railroad Administration.</a></p> <p><strong>On the day that President Obama announced sanctions against Russia</strong> for its election hacking, the Trump national security team suddenly got as agitated as a teenage girl about to go to her first prom. <a href="" target="_blank">Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed of Reuters have the story:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump's choice for national security adviser, held five phone calls with Russia's ambassador to Washington on the day the United States retaliated for Moscow's interference in the U.S. presidential election, three sources familiar with the matter said.</p> <p>The calls occurred between the time the Russian embassy was told about U.S. sanctions and the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he had decided against reprisals, said the sources.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm sure there was nothing untoward going on here. They were probably just asking each other what they planned to wear to the inauguration.</p> <p><strong>Finally, Max Sawicky writes something useful about Russia.</strong> Those of us who loathe Putin's Russia are not engaging in latter-day red baiting, he says. <a href="" target="_blank">Far from it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Today, kleptocratic, capitalist Russia is among the moneyed interests in the world. It&rsquo;s tempting but simplistic to see Russian leaders as a fairly narrow species of nationalist interlopers in U.S. domestic politics. More to the point, they are allied with germinating, reactionary forces internationally, if only lately inside the United States.</p> <p>....<strong>These movements, need we be reminded, are viciously, violently racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and homophobic.</strong> Similar groups run amok in Russia itself with the apparent indulgence of the authorities. The Trump campaign has brought like-minded creatures out from under the rocks of the U.S. right.</p> <p>....The U.S. welfare/regulatory state with all its flaws contains many seeds for a better system. Trump, with an assist from a cavalcade of shady backers, including Putin&rsquo;s Russian oligarchy, threatens to uproot these seeds. It&rsquo;s possible to exaggerate Putin&rsquo;s role, but it would be wrong to discount it altogether. <strong>Any complete survey of the forces colluding against progressive goals must now include the Russian state.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>As they say, read the whole thing.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 14 Jan 2017 02:37:56 +0000 Kevin Drum 323266 at Friday Cat Blogging - 13 January 2017 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I'm alive. Barely. My congestion decided to migrate up into my ear canals yesterday, so every time I cough my right ear blocks up and the world starts spinning. Unfortunately, I cough a lot. It doesn't last too long, but it happens often enough to keep my stomach in a permanent state of mild nausea. Sounds lovely, doesn't it?</p> <p>Anyway, the cats are all fine. Here's Hilbert camping out on the fence.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2017_01_13.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 5px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 13 Jan 2017 18:29:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 323246 at No, Tech Firms Are Not Huge Job Creators <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">James Pethokoukis rounds up some evidence today</a> that, contrary to their reputations, modern tech companies create just as many jobs as the big industrial giants of yore. The problem is that he's comparing today's companies with companies from a century ago, when the labor force was far smaller. You can't do that. You have to look at jobs as a percent of the entire labor force. When you do that, here's what his sample set of companies looks like 20 years after their founding:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_jobs_tech_companies.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Modern tech companies are all at the bottom. The only exception is Amazon, and it's arguable just how much Amazon is really a tech company anyway. Putting a web interface on retail doesn't really count, but then again, providing cloud services does. So they're about half and half, which probably explains why they're in the middle of the chart.</p> <p>For better or worse, modern tech companies just aren't huge jobs producers&mdash;and as machine intelligence progresses, they're likely to become even smaller players in the employment market.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 12 Jan 2017 22:35:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 323211 at The NFL Sucks So Hard <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I don't suppose anyone cares, but I just want to say for the record that <a href="" target="_blank">I agree entirely with Bill Plaschke today:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Every relationship is built on honesty, so the San Diego Chargers should hear this as their moving vans are chugging up the 5 Freeway on their noble mission of greed.</p> <p>We. Don&rsquo;t. Want. You.</p> </blockquote> <p>The NFL sucks so hard. They stayed out of Los Angeles for two decades desperately trying to prove that, by God, no city would get an NFL team unless they ponied up taxpayer dollars for a stadium. Now we're about to have <em>two</em> teams, and for the exact same reason: to show San Diego that, by God, an NFL team won't <em>stay</em> in a city unless they pony up taxpayer dollars for a <em>better</em> stadium. And not just any dollars. <em>Enough</em> dollars to satisfy the lords of football.</p> <p>Did I mention just how hard the NFL sucks?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 12 Jan 2017 21:25:03 +0000 Kevin Drum 323201 at DOJ Inspector General to Review Comey Letter <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Well, this is interesting:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">BREAKING: Justice Dept. Inspector General launches review of FBI and DOJ actions ahead of 2016 presidential election <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; ABC News (@ABC) <a href="">January 12, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>I doubt that this will find anything illegal about Comey's actions. However, at the very least it should provide us with a detailed rundown of just how Comey decided to release his letter and what advice he ignored when he did it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 12 Jan 2017 18:35:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 323146 at In Iowa, It's All About Terrorists and Welfare Bums <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><em>New York Times</em> reporter Trip Gabriel spent all of 2015 in Iowa. He recently returned to the small town of Monticello to see how folks felt <a href="" target="_blank">now that Donald Trump had been elected:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Iowans I interviewed largely went about their lives outside the political hothouse social media....Many were hazy on specific policy details....These voters feared an outbreak of European-style terrorist attacks by Muslims in the United States, maybe in their own communities. And overwhelmingly, Trump supporters did not want their hard-earned money redistributed to people they regarded as undeserving.</p> </blockquote> <p>There you go. Muslim terrorists and lazy black welfare recipients from the big city. Jobs matter too, but it's not clear if that was really a big motivator compared to terrorists and welfare bums.</p> <p>It's worth adding that there's nothing new about this, and Trump doesn't seem to have appealed to this sentiment any more than previous Republicans. There's plainly a racial component to voting for Republicans vs. Democrats, but it was no bigger in 2016 than in other years.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 12 Jan 2017 16:25:39 +0000 Kevin Drum 323116 at Trump Meets With Monsanto and Bayer to Discuss DOJ Merger Review <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Tom Philpott passes along a bit of news about Donald Trump that <a href="" target="_blank">flew under the radar yesterday:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Amid the furor surrounding allegations of covert ties with Russian intelligence figures as well as his first press conference since winning the election, President-elect Donald Trump found time in his hectic Wednesday schedule to meet with two towering figures in the agriculture world, reports <em>Fox Business Daily</em>....<strong>The meeting involved German chemical giant Bayer's $66 billion buyout of US seed/agrichemical giant Monsanto&mdash;a deal that will have to pass antitrust muster with Trump's Department of Justice.</strong></p> <p>....Fox reports that Bayer CEO Werner Baumann and his Monsanto counterpart Hugh Grant met with the incoming president at Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan to promote the merger. In an email to the news organization, a Monsanto spokesperson confirmed that the two execs <strong>"had a productive meeting with President-Elect Trump and his team to share their views on the future of the agriculture industry and its need for innovation."</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Is this...appropriate? I know that's sort of a silly question when it comes to Donald Trump, but is the president supposed to meet with people who have business pending with the Department of Justice? This is an antitrust review, not a criminal case, but it still seems wrong.</p> <p>Am I off base? Does this kind of thing happen all the time?</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> And there's this, which I missed earlier:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_stelter_att_cnn.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 15px;"></p> <p>Gee, I wonder what they talked about? Is Trump planning to become the single point of approval for all merger and antitrust matters?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 12 Jan 2017 15:12:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 323111 at BBC's Paul Wood: There Are Four Sources For Claims of Possible Trump-Russia Blackmail <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The BBC's Paul Wood provides yet more detail on allegations that <a href="" target="_blank">the Russians have possession of blackmail tapes on Donald Trump:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Claims about a Russian blackmail tape were made in one of a series of reports written by a <strong>former British intelligence agent.</strong> As a member of MI6, he had been posted to the UK's embassy in Moscow and now runs a consultancy giving advice on doing business in Russia. He spoke to a number of his old contacts in the FSB, the successor to the KGB, paying some of them for information.</p> <p>....The former MI6 agent is not the only source for the claim about Russian kompromat on the president-elect. Back in August, a retired spy told me he had been informed of its existence by <strong>"the head of an East European intelligence agency".</strong></p> <p>Later, I used an intermediary to pass some questions to <strong>active duty CIA officers dealing with the case file</strong>&nbsp;&mdash; they would not speak to me directly. I got a message back that there was "more than one tape", "audio and video", on "more than one date", in "more than one place"&nbsp;&mdash; in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and also in St Petersburg&nbsp;&mdash; and that the material was "of a sexual nature". The claims of Russian kompromat on Mr Trump were "credible", the CIA believed.</p> <p>....Last April, the CIA director was shown intelligence that worried him. It was&nbsp;&mdash; allegedly&nbsp;&mdash; a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.</p> <p>It was passed to the US by <strong>an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States.</strong> The CIA cannot act domestically against American citizens so a joint counter-intelligence taskforce was created....A lawyer&nbsp;&mdash; outside the Department of Justice but familiar with the case&nbsp;&mdash; told me that three of Mr Trump's associates were the subject of the inquiry. "But it's clear this is about Trump," he said.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's four sources, though obviously we don't know if they're all getting their information from the same place. Nor do we know if any of this is true. It might still all be baseless innuendo.</p> <p>Still, four sources. This Paul Wood fellow is either a world-class crank or a helluva reporter. And we never would have known any of this if BuzzFeed hadn't gone ahead and published that dossier.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 12 Jan 2017 06:29:47 +0000 Kevin Drum 323106 at What Happened to Kellyanne Conway? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Has anyone written a definitive profile of Kellyanne Conway? I seem to vaguely recall seeing her on cable news over the years, and she always seemed pretty normal. Conservative, of course, but not crazy or especially mendacious.</p> <p>Not anymore, though. She goes on TV and routinely lies, tosses out endless chum, makes groundless allegations, and just generally does everything she can to mislead the audience and attack all of her enemies, real and imagined. In other words, she's just like Donald Trump.</p> <p>Ditto for Sean Spicer, Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks, Scottie Nell Hughes, Katrina Pierson, and a cast of Trumpian thousands. But I'd never seen any of those folks before they became Trumpistas, so maybe they were that way all along. Conway is the only one I've ever seen before.</p> <p>Does Trump train people to "act like Trump"? Does it just happen naturally if you hang around the guy for a while? Will we soon have an entire administration full of mini-Trumps? It's a scary prospect. In the meantime, though, I'll settle for the straight dope on Kellyanne Conway. What's her deal?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 12 Jan 2017 05:12:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 323101 at Here's a Bit More on That Trump-Russia Dossier <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Yahoo News provides some further information about <a href="" target="_blank">the man behind the Trump-Russia dossier</a>, reporting that he is a former MI-6 officer who:</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>had worked as a consultant for the FBI&rsquo;s Eurasian organized crime section,</strong> helping to develop information about ties between suspected Russian gangsters and FIFA, said one of the sources, who is directly familiar with Steele&rsquo;s work.</p> <p>....U.S. officials said his allegations were not easily dismissed, in part because Steele was a known quantity who had produced reliable information about Russia in the past. "<strong>He&rsquo;s a meticulous professional, and there are no questions about his integrity,&rdquo;</strong> said one U.S. official... "The information he provided me [about Russia] was valuable and useful.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>And the BBC's Paul Wood claims that former MI-6 officer isn't the only source for these allegations anyway:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">ICYMI: BBC correspondent says there's more than one source, more than one tape &amp; more than one date of allegations in Trump intel dossier <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Alastair Reid (@ajreid) <a href="">January 11, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>Most of the stuff in the dossier is nonetheless probably wrong. The question is, is any of it right?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 12 Jan 2017 03:33:26 +0000 Kevin Drum 323096 at