It's less than 24 hours until Barack Obama leaves the White House. In eight years, here's my top ten list of what he accomplished:

  1. Affordable Care Act
  2. Stimulus package
  3. Climate actions: Paris agreement, EPA power plant standards, auto mileage standards, etc.
  4. Dodd-Frank financial reform
  5. Iran nuclear treaty
  6. Killed Osama bin Laden
  7. Allowed gays to serve openly in the military
  8. New START treaty
  9. Delivered 74 consecutive months of job growth
  10. Declined to get seriously involved in Syria

I'm keenly aware of all the criticisms you can make of this list: the stimulus wasn't big enough; Dodd-Frank didn't go far enough; Obamacare doesn't have a public option; cap-and-trade failed; the surveillance state became permanent; there was no help for underwater homeowners; there are still troops in Iraq and Afghanistan; and so forth. These are all legit. Nonetheless, if you compare this list to other presidents of the past century, there aren't more than three or four who can match it. Here in the real world, that's pretty good.

On foreign affairs, Obama got better as he spent more time in office. In 2009 he approved a huge surge of troops into a hopeless fight in Afghanistan. In 2011, he resisted intervening in Libya but eventually agreed to a middling-size offensive. Finally, by 2013, he had learned his lesson and simply refused to allow more than a modest bit of engagement in Syria. And thank God for that. If we had committed seriously to Syria, we'd be fighting a massive two-front war there to this day. Anybody who thinks otherwise is just not paying attention.

In the end, Obama wasn't a transformative president. But that's a high bar: in my book, FDR and Reagan are the only presidents of the past century who qualify. Still, Obama turned the battleship a few degrees more than most presidents, and we're all better off for it. He also brought a certain amount of grace and civility to the White House, as well as a genuine willingness to work across the aisle. In the event, that turned out to be futile, because Republicans had already decided to oppose everything he did sight unseen. But he did try.

I don't know how much of his legacy will survive. A fair amount, I think, since repealing things like Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and the Iran treaty are harder than they look. But some of it will fade or evaporate in the Trump era. And Obama was never able to make any headway against the anger that festers in the hearts of so many Americans toward the poor, the non-white, the non-male, the non-straight, and the non-Christian. Now this anger will guide our next four years. I miss him already, the best president of my lifetime.

Here's the latest news on squeezing our bloated government down to size:

Donald Trump is ready to take an ax to government spending. Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday’s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy, The Hill has learned....Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.

This is terrifying, of course, but it's also puzzling. $10.5 trillion over ten years? That's a trillion dollars a year. If you eliminated the domestic discretionary budget entirely, you'd only save half a trillion bucks. So how do they do it?

Well, we're told that the proposed budget cuts "hew closely" to a recent Heritage Foundation report, so I went and took a look. The answer, of course, is that the only way to cut that kind of money is to take a meat axe to everything, including Social Security and Medicare. Here's a chart:

Let's break this down. How does Heritage manage these whopping cuts? According to a modest little footnote in the appendix on page 165, here's the answer:

Medicaid: No details. There will be a spending cap, and all mandatory spending will somehow be cut to fit.

Medicare: Increase eligibility age, add a "temporary" premium for Part A, increase premiums for Parts B and D, phase out subsidies for seniors with "significant" income, "reform" cost-sharing arrangements, transition to vouchers premium support starting in 2021.

Domestic Discretionary: Magic spending cap.

Social Security: Increase retirement age, index retirement age so it keeps going up, reduce benefits by adopting chained CPI for inflation adjustments, and "transition the payment to a flat, anti-poverty benefit focused on individuals who need it most," whatever that means.

In fairness, there's a bit more detail on the domestic discretionary side. Actually, a mountain of detail: over the course of 140 pages, Heritage recommends cuts to over a hundred programs. These include catfish programs, the Ex-Im bank, climate programs, Amtrak, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc. etc. Cutting all this stuff might be harder than they expect, since some senator somewhere probably thinks very highly of the USDA Catfish Inspection Program, but I guess they can try. In any case, about 80 percent of the savings come from a small number of programs:

  • Energy subsidies: $28 billion
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund: $20 billion
  • Various HHS/HUD jobs program: $10 billion
  • Davis-Bacon: $9 billion
  • Federal Transit Administration: $4 billion
  • Nine climate programs: $4 billion
  • Military health care: $4 billion

So there you have it. Slash a bunch of hippy-dippy stuff (clean energy, water conservation, transit, climate); some employment stuff (jobs programs, Davis-Bacon); and military health care spending. Then take a meat axe to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and everything else, and you're done! Piece of cake.

Perhaps someone should start asking our president-elect if he's on board with this stuff.

Donald Trump's nominee for Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, has revised his financial disclosure form:

According to the memo, Mnuchin submitted answers Dec. 19 to a standard committee questionnaire seeking information about his financial and business interests. At the time, Mnuchin verified that those responses were accurate and complete.

However, Mnuchin had left out $95 million in real estate from his initial disclosures, according to the memo....Mnuchin also at first failed to disclose his role as director of Dune Capital International, which is incorporated in the Cayman Islands, the document shows.

....According to the memo, Mnuchin characterized the missing information as inadvertent mistakes, and he updated his answers to the committee’s questionnaire on Saturday, less than a week before his hearing.

Huh. Mnuchin's earlier disclosure form revealed a net worth around $400 million, far higher than the earlier consensus estimate of $40 million. I guess when you're worth that much, it's easy to forget that your four homes (in Los Angeles, England, and two in New York) are worth another $95 million. It could happen to anyone.

Anyway, the bottom line is that Mnuchin is actually worth about half a billion dollars, which makes a lot more sense for a Goldman Sachs/hedge fund lifer. The previous estimates of his net worth always struck me as surprisingly paltry.

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal blared the news that Donald Trump's comments on the dollar being too strong had sent the dollar "reeling." I suggested we might want to wait a few days before buying into this, but it turns out I was wrong. We only had to wait one day:

This follows the usual formula: (a) Trump says something, (b) a related financial index reacts instantly, and (c) by the next day everything is back to normal. I gather that there are folks on Wall Street who are writing algorithms to make money off this dynamic, but it's unclear how long that can last. I mean, how many times can this happen before everyone realizes that Trump's blather doesn't really mean anything?

Despite weeks of effort, Donald Trump was apparently unable to find a Hispanic to serve as Secretary of Agriculture. Was this because no Hispanics were willing to join his administration? Or was it because Trump just couldn't build any kind of personal rapport with any of the Hispanics who came to Trump Tower to visit with him? We'll never know.

Instead, our new Agriculture Secretary will be Sonny Perdue, the man who won election as governor of Georgia in 2003 by promising to let residents vote on a flag referendum that would allow them to return the Confederate battle cross to a central position in the state flag. In the end, the Democratic legislature refused to allow this, and instead compromised on a flag that ditched the rebel cross but included the Confederate Stars and Bars—something that most people don't really recognize, but which kinda sorta appeased the racist Southern heritage faction of the Peach State.

I'm sure this appealed to Trump, and Perdue does have some agricultural experience—that is, assuming you count the fact that he runs a "global trading company that facilitates U.S. commerce focusing on the export of U.S. goods and services...such as blueberries, grains, onions, peanuts, pecans, soybeans, and spinach." He's probably done pretty well for himself in this business, allowing him to join his brother, Sen. David Perdue, in the rich man's club.

Anyway, that's it. Until and unless someone pulls out or is rejected by the Senate, Trump has now named his nominees for every cabinet-level position. As you can see, he tangled with the swamp, and the swamp won.

Sherri Underwood, a Midwestern woman in her mid-50s, writes that she voted for Donald Trump but now regrets it:

Most of my decision came down to my poor experience with Obamacare. In the ’90s, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic illness that causes fatigue, memory loss, physical aches, and soreness....I eventually was unable to work at all. I lost employer-based health insurance when I left the workforce and had to pay my health care costs out of pocket.

When Obamacare first came into effect, I was excited to get what I thought would be financial help with my costly medicine and treatments. But [my husband’s salary] put me in an earning bracket too high to qualify for any financial assistance....I’m left with a premium of $893, so high that I can no longer afford the cost of my medicines and treatments on top of the monthly premiums.

....In the end, I voted for Trump because he promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, and that was the most important issue to my own life. Looking back, I realize what a mistake it was. I ignored the pundits who repeated over and over again that he would not follow through on his promises, thinking they were spewing hysterics for better ratings. Sitting on my couch, my mouth agape at the words coming out his mouth on the TV before me, I realized just how wrong I was.

This is so depressing. Underwood's general problem is that she's decided Trump is not a man who will carry out his promises, so now she doesn't believe he's going to improve Obamacare. Fine. But what Underwood never understood is that even if Trump did carry out his promises, she'd still be worse off. Although Underwood may not have qualified for a subsidy, she did benefit from the fact that Obamacare allows a maximum premium ratio of 3:1 between old people and young people. Trump and other Republicans think this ought to be 5:1. If it were, Underwood's premium would be over $1,000. Obamacare probably saved her something in the neighborhood of $2,000 per year.

Plus Obamacare allowed her to get insurance in the first place. Until it took effect, no one would cover her.

Lots of people have benefited considerably from Obamacare, but not everyone. Underwood found herself in the worst possible position: old enough to have a high premium but well-off enough that she didn't qualify for assistance. So she was gobsmacked when she discovered just how much health care costs in America. Most people have no real clue about this, but per-capita health care spending in the bloated US system is over $10,000 per year for someone 55 years old. That means insurance premiums are going to be $10,000+ per year too. There's just no getting around this.

If Republicans want to cover people like Underwood, they're going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. If they want to reduce deductibles, they're going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. If they want to increase subsidies for the middle class, they're going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. This is an iron law, and no amount of blather about state lines or tort reform or anything else changes it more than minutely. But Republicans want to spend less, not more. Even if Trump had been sincere, there was never any chance that Underwood would do better under his plan than under Obamacare.

It all comes down to money. Ignore the rest of the chaff. If you think national health care should be better, it means spending more money. Period.

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.