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.

Via Pew Research, here's another reason that Republicans might have more trouble than they think repealing Obamacare:

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.

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—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.

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:

  • Intelligence chiefs
  • Cast and producers of Hamilton
  • Mika Brzezinski
  • The media
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • CNN
  • Wall Street Journal
  • Vicente Fox
  • Mark Halperin
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Rachel Maddow
  • Chuck Todd
  • Chris Christie
  • The liberal media
  • The Washington Post
  • Carly Fiorina
  • Fox News
  • Tom Llamas
  • Charles Krauthammer
  • John McCain
  • Univision

For a guy who never apologizes himself, he sure does demand a lot of apologies from others, doesn't he?

Here's some good news for MLK Day. The incarceration rate for young black men is now down more than half since 2001:

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.

You'll note that, generally speaking, black incarceration has fallen more than white incarceration. The reason for this is simple: the biggest victims of lead poisoning in the 1960-90 era 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.

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.

Monica Crowley won't be joining the Trump administration after all:

“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,” she said in a statement. “I greatly appreciate being asked to be part of President-elect Trump’s team and I will continue to enthusiastically support him and his agenda for American renewal.”

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 plagiarized great big chunks of her PhD dissertation. That's a different thing altogether. Not only did she plagiarize a lot, 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.

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.

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.

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.

The Good. Obamacare has provided more than 20 million people—most of them low-income or working class—with health coverage. It has done this with no negative effects on either Medicare or the employer health insurance market. It didn't raise taxes more than a few pennies on anyone making less than six figures. It's had no effect on the willingness of companies to hire full-time workers. Health care costs under Obamacare have continued to grow at very modest rates. And it's accomplished all this under its original budget.

The Bad. 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 every one of these things is a result of Obamacare's reliance on private markets, 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.

The Popular. Obamacare is popular unless you call it "Obamacare." If you call it Kynect, its negatives drop. If you call it the Affordable Care Act, its negatives drop. If you ask about the actual things it does, virtually every provision 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, the only truly unpopular part of Obamacare is the name "Obamacare." (And even that's only unpopular among Republicans.)

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—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.

In the end, somehow, this really seems to be the answer:

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.

What kind of person hates all these things?