Bill Neely of NBC News reports on Vladimir Putin's efforts to understand the psyche of America's reality-show president:

A dossier on Donald Trump's psychological makeup is being prepared for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among its preliminary conclusions is that the new American leader is a risk-taker who can be naïve, according to a senior Kremlin adviser.

....Former Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Fedorov told NBC News..."Very serious preparatory work is going on in the Kremlin, including a paper — seven pages — describing a psychological portrait of Trump, especially based on this last two to three months, and the last weeks."

....Putin's government is growing increasingly concerned about Trump's battles in Washington, according to Fedorov and former lawmaker Sergei Markov, who remains well-connected at the Kremlin. Fedorov added that Trump's "constant battle with the mass media" was "worrying us." The U.S. president "is dancing on thin ice," he said. "It's a risky game."

A former prime minister under Putin said the Kremlin is taking no pleasure at Trump's struggles. "Absolutely not — not laughing," Mikhail Kasyanov said. "The situation is very serious and the whole of [Putin's] team, they are nervous." Many in the Kremlin believe hardliners in America — in Congress and the military — want to sabotage the president and his plans for better ties with Russia.

From Putin's point of view, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that Trump can't control himself. Putin could literally publish his dossier on his Facebook page and it wouldn't matter. Just as he did in the debates, when Hillary Clinton baited him in the most obvious ways, Trump will respond to provocations the way he always responds.

That's also the bad news, of course: Trump can't control himself. He lives in a delusionary world where everything is going great and the White House is a finely tuned machine. This divorce from reality is likely to become ever more cavernous as time goes on, and there's no telling how long it will be until this produces a disaster of some kind. Eventually it's going to become clear that trying to run the US government the same way he ran his business—Trump acting as the showman/marketing genius, while professional managers keep the gears turning—isn't producing any results here in consensus reality. And then the whole delusionary edifice will come tumbling down.

But when? Next week? Next year? Whenever the economy turns down? There's no telling. Putin better keep that dossier constantly updated.

Reality is setting in:

For seven years, few issues have animated conservative voters as much as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But with President Barack Obama out of office, the debate over “Obamacare” is becoming less about “Obama” and more about “care” — greatly complicating the issue for Republican lawmakers.

....As liberals overwhelm congressional town hall-style meetings and deluge the Capitol phone system with pleas to protect the health law, there is no similar clamor for dismantling it, Mr. Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. From deeply conservative districts in the South and the West to the more moderate parts of the Northeast, Republicans in Congress say there is significantly less intensity among opponents of the law than when Mr. Obama was in office.

Intensity is the key word here, since actual opinions about Obamacare don't seem to have changed more than a eyelash over the past seven years:

But the intensity of opinion has changed. With Obama out of office, the Republican base doesn't care as much. Hating Obamacare was mostly just a way of hating Obama. Likewise, the Democratic base cares more. They spent the past seven years griping about how weak Obamacare was—no public option, too friendly to insurance companies, subsidies too low, blah blah blah—under the apparent assumption that it didn't matter that practically no one was passionately defending the law. With Trump in office, Democrats have finally figured out that it matters, and congressional phones are now ringing off the hook.

So reality has set in for everyone. The Republican rank-and-file has finally figured out they never really cared all that much about taxing the rich an extra three points to provide health care for everyone. The Democratic rank-and-file has finally figured out that Obamacare is a pretty good program and it's worth fighting for.

But did we really have to elect Donald Trump to figure this out?

Cleaning Up After Trump

From the Wall Street Journal:

Jim Mattis, on his first trip to Iraq as defense secretary, said he plans to assess the fight against Islamic State in the country and that the U.S. isn’t there to take its oil. “I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America, have paid for our gas and oil all along and I’m sure that we will continue to do so in the future,” he told reporters in Abu Dhabi the day before leaving for Iraq. “We are not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil.”

So far, Mattis and VP Mike Pence have been fanning out across the world to assure our allies that President Trump thinks NATO is great; that America's support for Europe is "unwavering"; that Trump will be tough on Russia; and that we're not going to take Iraq's oil. In other words, basically the opposite of everything Trump himself has said over the past year.

This is becoming the signature of the Trump administration. At home, Trump says something stupid, and Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway gamely go out to clean up the mess and claim that Trump didn't really mean what he said. Abroad, Mattis and Pence and Rex Tillerson play the same role. They're like the guys who follow the elephants at a parade.

I'll bet they didn't think this was how they'd be spending their time as some of the most powerful people in the world.

Via the Washington Post:

“If he hadn’t gotten into office, 70,000 miners would have been put out of work,” Patricia Nana, a 42-year-old naturalized citizen from Cameroon. “I saw the ceremony where he signed that bill, giving them their jobs back, and he had miners with their hard hats and everything — you could see how happy they were.”

And those immigration raids last weeks ended up deporting 1.3 million undocumented workers. And Intel's new factory will give good, high-paying jobs to 250,000 hardworking Americans. And Trump's Muslim ban prevented 400 acts of terror on American soil.

Sigh. Among his supporters, Trump's style of governance by TV spectacle is working out well.

The president's friends have a proposal for him:

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.

Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

....[Mr. Cohen] said Mr. Sater had given him the written proposal in a sealed envelope. When Mr. Cohen met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office in early February, he said, he left the proposal in Mr. Flynn’s office. Mr. Cohen said he was waiting for a response when Mr. Flynn was forced from his post. Now Mr. Cohen, Mr. Sater and Mr. Artemenko are hoping a new national security adviser will take up their cause. On Friday the president wrote on Twitter that he had four new candidates for the job.

The "Ukranian lawmaker" is a pro-Putin opponent of the current regime in Ukraine. Sater is, um, a guy with an interesting background: "mafia linked," spent some time in prison, worked as an FBI informant, and spent several years as a close business associate of Donald J. Trump. Oh, and Sater was born in Russia and continues to have lots of contacts there.

And Cohen? Well, he's the guy who could actually get inside the White House and deliver the letter. You remember Michael Cohen, don't you?

Every time we turn around, there's something new linking Trump to Russia. Just a few days ago, FBI Director James Comey briefed the Senate Intelligence committee about the ongoing investigation of Team Trump and its ties to Russia, and all the chatter afterward was about how the senators seemed kind of shaken by what they heard.

Who knows? Maybe it all turns out to be nothing. But there sure is a lot of smoke out there. It's hard to believe there isn't a fire too.

Oh FFS:

The Trump administration is considering changing the way it calculates U.S. trade deficits, a shift that would make the country’s trade gap appear larger than it had in past years, according to people involved in the discussions.

The leading idea under consideration would exclude from U.S. exports any goods first imported into the country, such as cars, and then transferred to a third country like Canada or Mexico unchanged, these people told The Wall Street Journal.

Economists say that approach would inflate trade deficit numbers because it would typically count goods as imports when they come into the country but not count the same goods when they go back out, known as re-exports.

While we're at it, let's change our new jobs report to show all the people who have gained a job but not the ones who have lost a job. That should make the economy look great, just like Trump wants it.

Rex Tillerson's choice of Elliott Abrams to be his deputy at the State Department was vetoed by the White House. Abrams had once said some bad things about Donald Trump, so he was out. The New York Times reports on what this means:

Mr. Trump remains fixated on the campaign as he applies a loyalty test to some prospective officials....Six of the 15 statutory cabinet secretaries are still awaiting Senate confirmation as Democrats nearly uniformly oppose almost all of the president’s choices.

....It is not just Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson who has no deputy secretary, much less Trump-appointed under secretaries or assistant secretaries. Neither do the heads of the Treasury Department, the Education Department or any of the other cabinet departments. Only three of 15 nominees have been named for deputy secretary positions. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has a deputy only because he kept the one left over from President Barack Obama’s administration.

Yes, Democrats are slow-walking Trump's cabinet choices. You can decide for yourself if this is justified. But it's the deputies who often really run things, and Trump has only managed to name three out of 15 candidates. After he interviewed all those cabinet nominees, I guess he got bored.

In other words, it's not Democrats who are holding up the rest of government. The problem is that Trump has no idea what he's doing, and his staff is too busy with Trump's thin skin and chaotic management style to find qualified deputies that are acceptable to him. After the debacle with his National Security Advisor, I imagine this has gotten even harder. You could almost feel qualified conservatives backing away from Trumpland as that shitshow played out.

Trump has always had a pretty small set of people acceptable to him, and now a shrinking number of experienced players are finding Trump acceptable to them. This doesn't bode well for basic management of government business, let alone the "change for the ages" that he promised last night.

Do photo ID laws reduce minority turnout? Previous studies have suggested that the answer is yes, but the effect is fairly small. However, in the Washington Post last week, three scholars wrote about a new study they conducted, which offers "a more definitive assessment" than previous studies. Their conclusion: states with strict photo ID laws produce a far lower turnout among minorities than other states.

It's taken me a while to comment on this because I had to read the report a few times to make sure I understood everything. In the end, I found several reasons to be skeptical of their conclusion.

First off, they found much stronger effects in primaries than in general elections. Now, maybe this really is the case, and I can certainly invent plausible stories about why it might be so. But it still seems odd.

Second, in a draft version of their study, they say this:

Importantly, we see no effects for Asian Americans, the one minority group that is, by at least some standards, not socioeconomically disadvantaged. The effects of these laws seem to be concentrated toward the bottom end of the racial hierarchy.

In later drafts, their numbers have been updated and it turns out that Asian Americans are affected by voter ID laws—which makes their important finding disappear. But if this was an important verification in one draft, it ought to be an important discrepancy in the final draft. However, it's not mentioned.

Third, hardly any of their findings are statistically significant. I'm not a big stickler for 95 percent significance always and everywhere, especially for something like this, where there's one messy set of real-life data and you have to draw conclusions from it one way or another. If the results are significant at 85 or 90 percent, that's still strongly suggestive. Nonetheless, that's all it is.

Fourth, the effect size on African Americans is considerably less than it is for Hispanics and Asian Americans. Maybe this is just because blacks are more politically organized, and therefore more likely to overcome the deterrent effects of photo ID laws. Maybe.

So far, none of these are deal breakers. They made me a little tentative about accepting the authors' results, but that's all. But then we get this:

Here's what's going on. On the left, you see their main results, based on a model they constructed. It shows very large effects: in states with strict photo ID laws, turnout decreases 8 percentage points among Hispanics, 2 percent among African Americans, and 5 percent among Asians.

On the right, you see the results from a second test. It compares turnout in states before and after they enacted strict photo ID laws, and it shows much smaller effects: about 2 percentage points for all minorities. This strikes me as a better test, since it eliminates lots of confounding variables that crop up when you compare one set of states to a different set. But the authors go to considerable lengths to downplay these results, for reasons that I don't find very persuasive. Yes, their sample size is smaller, and yes, things can change from year to year. But their sample sizes aren't that small, and the differences in a single state over the course of two years is probably smaller than the differences between states in the same year.

Maybe I'm totally off base here. I don't have the raw data or the chops to analyze it. Still, if I had to bet money, I'd bet that the second test is more reliable, and the real effect of photo ID laws is a decreased turnout of about 2 percentage points among minorities. That's plenty to affect a close election, and the motivation for these laws is plainly partisan and racial. They should be done away with everywhere.

That said, I continue to suspect that the effect is fairly modest.

Donald Trump at his pep rally yesterday on immigration:

You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible.

Nothing happened in Sweden last night, which has prompted lots of IKEA and ABBA joke memes. However, Zack Beauchamp thinks Trump was probably referring not to something that happened recently, but to the alleged "rape epidemic" in Sweden ever since they started taking in lots of Middle Eastern immigrants. This is apparently a staple of the Breitbart-o-sphere. Unfortunately, Beauchamp then says this:

The problem, though, is that this “rape epidemic” is as fake as the Bowling Green Massacre.

Canadian reporter Doug Saunders rigorously investigated the narrative, and concluded that it “falls apart as soon as you speak to anyone knowledgeable in Sweden.” Official Swedish statistics do indeed show a high rate of rape, but that’s because Swedish law has an extremely expansive definition of what qualifies as rape under the law.

....These panics about immigration, instead, reflect a long history of sexual panics in the West about non-white immigrants. Etc.

Whenever I see writing that carefully avoids providing comparative statistics, my BS detector goes off. Sure enough, Saunders didn't "rigorously" do anything. He linked to an old report that tallies crime rates for the years 1997-2001—which is all but useless in 20171—and then glided quickly past his eventual acknowledgment that the foreign-born have "a higher rate of criminal charges than the native-born." If you're interested, here's the actual data from the report (tables 3 and 6 in the appendix):

These are very big differences. Now, Saunders also links to a study which suggests that "half to three-quarters" of the difference can be accounted for by socioeconomic status. Maybe so. But crime is crime. If you're the victim of assault from a Syrian refugee, you don't really care if it happened because he's Syrian or because he's poorer than average.

There's plenty more to legitimately say about this. If poverty really is a causal factor, maybe it means Sweden needs to be more generous. Other statistics suggest that the children of the foreign-born have much lower crime rates than their parents. And as Beauchamp says, "rape" in Sweden is defined pretty broadly.

Still, if we bring up this subject at all, we have to present the statistics fairly. In the US, immigrants seem to commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans. But Sweden is a different country, and the statistics suggest that foreign-born immigrants do indeed commit crimes there in much larger numbers than native Swedes.

UPDATE: I don't know just how interested everyone is in the minutiae of Swedish crime, but here's the crime rate over the past decade:

Some are up, some are down, but the overall trend appears fairly flat despite the large rise in immigrants over this period. On the other hand, preliminary figures show that crime against persons was up 7 percent in 2016, including a 13 percent increase in reported rapes and a 14 percent increase in child abuse.

1Apparently this is the most recent report that examines crime rates by area of origin. I don't know why Sweden hasn't done anything more recent.

Ben Cawthra/Rex Shutterstock via ZUMA

OK, hive mind, I have a question for you. My sister is heading to London later this year, and this time she has a shiny new iPhone to take with her. She's on T-Mobile, so allegedly she'll have access to calling, texting, and low-speed data without doing anything. So here's one plan:

  • Download the maps she needs before she leaves.
  • Rely on T-Mobile for calling and texting.
  • Use WiFi whenever she's at the hotel, in a coffee shop, etc.
  • Register for The Cloud, and use that when she's out and about.
  • When all else fails, use T-Mobile's low-speed data.

Alternatively:

  • Buy a SIM when she gets there and use local calling, texting, and high-speed internet.

Do I have any T-Mobile readers who have been to London lately? What's the dope? What do you think her best alternative is?

UPDATE: Thanks everyone! It sounds like T-Mobile's native service works pretty well.