For reasons that are a little unclear, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) has decided to introduce a shiny new plan to reform Social Security when Congress meets next year. Johnson's idea of "reform" is to slash everyone's benefits, so this idea seems slightly suicidal—not to mention pointless, since Donald Trump campaigned very loudly on a promise not to touch anyone's Social Security.

But Johnson is a very conservative guy, and maybe he just wants to lay down a marker. So what would his plan do? It has 15 components, all of them crammed full of Social Security's usual alphabet soup of acronyms—AWI, PIA, AIME, MAGI, bend points, etc.—but it turns out that only six of them are big enough to be meaningful. Here is the Social Security actuary's estimate of how much money they'd save:

Basically, there are four big proposals that would cut benefits by 5.76 percent of payroll, and two proposals that would increase benefits by 1.37 percent of payroll. I assure you that this chart is far simpler to understand than the actual analysis, but it probably still leaves you a little baffled. Whose benefits would be cut? And by how much? I'm here to help:

Roughly speaking, people with extremely low average earnings over their working lives would see their benefits rise. That's good! Unfortunately, everyone with an average lifetime income over $22,000 would see their benefits slashed—in some cases by a lot. An income of $60,000 is not exactly a king's ransom, but nonetheless Johnson would cut benefits for these folks by a third.

As usual with these plans, a lot of its provisions are phased in gradually over time. But unlike most of these plans, some of them start to kick in right away. This means that even people who are already retired would suffer benefit cuts. For example, Johnson's plan reduces the annual cost-of-living increase—and eliminates it entirely for anyone earning over $85,000—beginning in 2018.

Anyway, since I tortured myself by reading this plan, I figured I should torture all the rest of you by blogging about it. Happy Holidays!

Apparently it's now settled that ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson will be Donald Trump's Secretary of State. It's hard to know what to make of this. My main takeaway is that Trump obviously had a really hard time finding someone who checked all his boxes. I don't want to go too far overboard on Tillerson's friendly relationship with Vladimir Putin—it's hardly damning that his company submitted bids for drilling rights in the Arctic—but it's very hard to figure out what Trump didn't like about the dozens of far more plausible candidates available to him. The best I can come up with is that pretty much everyone on the Republican side of the aisle is a Russia hawk, and that's the one thing that disqualified them all.

Then again, Tillerson is a wealthy fossil-fuel CEO, and Trump likes rich people, fossil fuels, and CEOs. Maybe that's all it is.

NOTE: I wouldn't normally mark Tillerson as a member of the swamp, but I'm making an exception due to his apparent chumminess with the swamp. Details here.

Now that ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson seems to be a likely choice for Secretary of State, I got to wondering: where did his name come from in the first place? Obviously not from Trump himself. Well, I asked, and Twitter delivered. Here is Politico:

Tillerson was brought into Trump Tower for an interview with Trump at the recommendation of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who count Exxon among their private consulting clients, according to two sources familiar with the conversations. His name was first publicly floated for the job in early December and he met privately with Trump on Tuesday. Rice sat down with the President-elect in late November, and Gates followed her three days later.

So Tillerson pays Gates and Rice for "consulting," whatever that means, and they in turn recommend him to Trump for the State Department. Welcome to the swamp, ladies and gentlemen.

And while on we're on the subject of the Secretary of State, National Review editor Rich Lowry says that Tillerson, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney all have problems that ought to disqualify them:

The natural pick here has always been John Bolton, who endorsed Trump early, who fits broadly within the Trump worldview that you might characterize as muscular realism, and actually has substantial foreign policy experience.

I think the answer here is pretty obvious: Bolton doesn't like Russia, and he has no qualms about saying so loudly and persistently. Trump obviously values an appreciation of Vladimir Putin's talents more highly than he does even loyalty to Trump. Plus there's the mustache.

Today brings a reminder of the editorial judgment at work in our press corps. First, here is the New York Times on October 29, reporting on an ambiguous letter from FBI Director James Comey that literally added nothing to what we already knew:

And here is the New York Times on December 10, reporting on concrete news that the intelligence community believes a hostile foreign power played a major role in getting a game show host elected president of the United States:

Guess what? It turns out that Vladimir Putin really did think that the best way to cripple America was to get an incompetent buffoon like Donald Trump elected president. Smart man. Here's the Washington Post: "The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter."

The New York Times adds this: "They based that conclusion, in part, on another finding — which they say was also reached with high confidence — that the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks."

Donald Trump's transition team thinks the intelligence community is full of crap, and we should ignore them and move on. "The election ended a long time ago," they said in a statement, "in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history."

Oh really? Let's interrupt our story about the greatest act of ratfucking in history for an aside about how Trump really did:

The good news, I guess, is that Trump has given up on claiming that he won a great victory in the popular vote. The bad news is that he's simply switched to lying about his Electoral College victory.

Now back to Putin. I'd say that given Trump's apparent inability to ever utter the truth—along with the odd coincidence that Trump just happens to be pro-Russia on nearly every issue Russia cares about—it might be smart to at least take a peek at what the intelligence folks have to say. Especially since the Post story also says this:

In September, during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence...and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.

So McConnell really did Trump a solid, didn't he? And guess what? It turns out that Trump thinks McConnell's wife is the best qualified person in the whole country to be his Secretary of Transportation! Just another coincidence, I'm sure.

Over at National Review, James Sherk has a complaint:

President-elect Trump has picked Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants (i.e. Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s) for labor secretary. Amusingly, the media coverage of his nomination has been dominated by . . . fake news. Several outlets have reported that Puzder opposes increasing the minimum wage. That’s not exactly true.

Forget the Puzder stuff. His view on the minimum wage is a little hard to pin down. My objection is to the overuse of "fake news." There are two things that can qualify:

  • Stuff that's literally made up and passed off as real. The most famous example is here.
  • Wild conspiracy theories passed around on Facebook pages and crank websites.

"Fake news" is a useful concept, but not if we start using it to refer to anything we think is wrong or biased or not fully reported. We already have good words for this kind of stuff, ranging from "not the whole story" to "outright lie." We don't need to ruin a perfectly good phrase by using it where it really doesn't fit.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Rex Tillerson has emerged as the leading candidate to become President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, according to two transition officials, marking the latest twist in a multiweek search for a top diplomat.

....Among those considered for the post, Mr. Tillerson has perhaps the closest ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, having negotiated a 2011 energy partnership deal with Russia that Mr. Putin said could eventually be worth as much as $500 billion. In 2012, the Kremlin bestowed the country’s Order of Friendship decoration on Mr. Tillerson.

Oh come on. Trump is planning to nominate a wealthy, inexperienced fossil-fuel mogul whose only qualification—literally—is that he's sort of chummy with Vladimir Putin? And Republicans are expected to confirm him?

Who's writing the script for this show? No one's going to believe these plot twists. I gave up on Designated Survivor after a couple of episodes, and it was more realistic than this.

For years we've had a regular feline visitor to our house. However, a few days ago, for the first time I can remember, he visited during daylight hours. This caused considerable alarm, and in the ensuing dustup both of our cats somehow ended up on the roof. I'm not quite sure how or why, but after it was all over they roamed around for a while and then settled down on the patio cover. As you can see, Hilbert is keeping a watchful eye out for any further invasions of his territory.

Speaking of territory, the Downing Street mouse problem has still not been solved. So now, in addition to Larry, Palmerston, and Gladstone, the staff has added a mother and son pair of cats, Evie and Ossie. We now have an army of five cats on Downing Street patrol. Would you like to see them and hear about all the inside dirt? (Turf wars! Dog terrorizing! Tarantulas!) This is the kind of thing for which tabloids are really and truly your best source. Forget the Guardian. I recommend the Sun or the Mirror for this story.

A few years ago, conservatives raised an alarm over the fact that President Obama didn't receive an in-person intelligence briefing every day. Sometimes, it turned out, he met with the briefer, but other times he just read the briefing material. This was deemed a major threat to national security.

So how about Donald Trump?

President-elect Donald Trump is receiving an average of one presidential intelligence briefing a week, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter, far fewer than most of his recent predecessors....Trump has asked for at least one briefing, and possibly more, from intelligence agencies on specific subjects, one of the officials said. The source declined to identify what subjects interested the president-elect, but said that so far they have not included Russia or Iran.

My guess is that Trump (a) thinks he already knows everything he needs to know, and (b) is afraid the briefings might force him to acknowledge things he doesn't want to believe. In any case, he's going to be president pretty shortly, and surely Republicans are deeply concerned about his apparent lack of interest in the intelligence community's reports.


Paul Krugman notes today that all of us coastal elites actually do more for the recently famous white working class than Republicans do, but the working class folks still don't like us because they think we look down on them. He's a little puzzled about this:

Do the liberals sneer at the Joe Sixpacks? Actually, I’ve never heard it — the people I hang out with do understand that living the way they do takes a lot more money and time than hard-pressed Americans have, and aren’t especially judgmental about lifestyles. But it’s easy to see how the sense that liberals look down on regular folks might arise, and be fanned by right-wing media.

I'm not here to get into a fight with Krugman, but come on. Sure, the right-wing media fans the flames of this stuff, but is there really any question that liberal city folks tend to sneer at rural working-class folks? I'm not even talking about stuff like abortion and guns and gay marriage, where we disagree over major points of policy. I'm talking about lifestyle. Krugman talks about fast food, and that's a decent example. Working-class folks like fast food,1 which explains why Donald Trump liked to show pictures of himself eating McDonald's or KFC. It's a sign that he's one of them. Ditto for Trump's famous trucker hat. (Did you even know that it's a trucker hat, not a baseball cap? He did.)

If I felt like this was something that actually needs evidence, I could produce a million examples in a very short time. But everyone gets this, don't they? We sneer at their starchy food. We sneer at their holy-roller megachurches. (But not at black churches; never that.) We sneer at their favorite TV shows. We sneer at their reading habits. We sneer at their guns. We sneer at their double-wides. We sneer at the tchotchkes that litter their houses. We sneer at their supermarket tabloids. We sneer at their music. We sneer at their leisure activities. We sneer at their blunt patriotism. We sneer at—

Again: come on. Maybe you personally don't do it—though judging from the comments here, a lot of you do—but you hardly need to be an anthropologist to recognize that this kind of sneering shows up on TV, in newspapers, on Twitter, in books, on Facebook, and in private conversations all the time. It's hard to believe that anyone is really blind to this.

Now, it's true that they also sneer at us. Fair enough. But as all good liberals know, there's a big difference between a powerful group sneering at a vulnerable group, and vice versa. The former is a far bigger problem. And we educated city folks are, on average, far richer and more powerful than ruralish working-class folks. Our sneering has a power component that theirs doesn't. I confess that it's fun, and I enjoy my share of sneering in private, but I also accept that this attitude has political costs.

Anyway, I'm curious: do you accept this? Is it as obvious to you as it is to me? Or do you think I'm overstating things? Do I really need to make my case in more detail?

1So do I. Except for McDonald's.