McClatchy has the latest on the investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump team:

The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election....The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, the sources said.

....One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said....A key mission of the six-agency group has been to examine who financed the email hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

....The working group is scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump’s campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections, the sources said.

....The BBC reported that the FBI had obtained a warrant on Oct. 15 from the highly secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing investigators access to bank records and other documents about potential payments and money transfers related to Russia. One of McClatchy’s sources confirmed the report.

That's an awful lot of agencies investigating an awful lot of allegations against an awful lot of people. And as the article says, you can't get a warrant unless you can demonstrate at least some kind of plausible probable cause. That means these folks are working off a lot more than just the famous dossier produced by the ex-MI6 spy.

At this point, I flatly don't know what I believe anymore. This is all crazy stuff, but a whole bunch of investigators don't seem to be treating it as crazy. Either way, though, the guy at the center of all this is going to become president of the United States in two days.

There's just not much to say about this. We now have the official number for 2016, and it was yet another record-setting year for global warming. Here's the latest set of Arctic temperatures:

The green line is where we'd normally be. The red line is where we are: about 15°C higher than usual. Total sea ice extent is now about 3 million square kilometers less than normal.

However, 2017 will probably be a little cooler than 2016 thanks to the end of our latest El Niño, so I'm sure the climate deniers will be back in the saddle a year from now. In the meantime, we continue to fry.

Well, we've now officially gone from this:

To this:

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.

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.

Well, this is it, boys and girls. We're doomed:

The Consumer Price Index has breached 2 percent for one month, which means hyperinflation is right around the corner. The Fed must act!

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 really pay attention to the core PCE, which is also well below 2 percent. Inflation is always and everywhere ready to devour us.

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.

I mentioned in passing yesterday 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:

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?

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.

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?

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.

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:

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.

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.

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 35 years in prison. 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.

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—no government can possibly allow a soldier to expose a massive trove of state secrets without punishment—but I do believe that seven years is enough. Let it rest.

A new poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal is getting some attention today for showing a big jump in support for Obamacare 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:

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.

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.

Yesterday Donald Trump said he thought the dollar was "too strong." Today the Wall Street Journal goes into overdrive to describe the effect of the great man's words:

Trump Comments Send Dollar Reeling

Reeling! Is that true? Well, the Journal's 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 Journal's index for the entire period since Trump's election:

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:

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.

The Chinese government is the acknowledged expert at authoritarian use of social media to promote party goals. So how do they do it? Alex Tabarrok 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. They don't waste their time trying to change minds:

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’s strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. We infer that the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to distract the public and change the subject, as most of the these posts involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist Party, or other symbols of the regime.

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.

I hardly need to mention that this strategy should remind you of someone.

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.

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. Here's the CBO's answer:

  • 18 million people would lose insurance. By 2026, that would increase to 32 million.
  • Premiums in the individual market would skyrocket, increasing 20-25 percent in the first year and about 50 percent by 2026.
  • 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.

That is inconvenient, isn't it? This is what happens if you eliminate Obamacare but keep in place the ban on pre-existing conditions—which Republicans all say they support and which they can't repeal anyway. Premiums would skyrocket, 32 million people would lose coverage, and insurers would abandon about three-quarters of the country.

This is what Republicans need to address with their "replace" plan. But they can't do it and they know it.