So what has President Obama done over the past month to get a few last-minute liberal priorities in place before Donald Trump takes over? Obama has moved forward on eight substantial executive actions so far:

  • Enacted a permanent ban on offshore oil and gas drilling in areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic Seaboard.
  • Refused to veto a UN resolution condemning Israel's settlements in the West Bank.
  • Designated two new national monuments totalling more than 1.6 million acres: Bears Ears Buttes in southeastern Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada.
  • Instructed the Department of Homeland Security to formally end the long-disused NSEERs database, which Trump could have revived as the backbone of a new Muslim registry.
  • Instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to deny final permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline where it crosses the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
  • Issued a final rule that bans the practice among some red states of withholding federal family-planning funds from Planned Parenthood and other health clinics that provide abortions.
  • Finalized rules to determine whether schools were succeeding or failing under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
  • Began an investigation into charges of Russian hacking during the presidential campaign.

This last-minute flurry of activity is actually fairly normal, but Trump is annoyed anyway, saying he's doing his best to "disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks." Too bad, Donald: there's more to come. According to Politico, "As many as 98 final regulations under review at the White House as of Nov. 15 could be implemented before Trump takes office. Seventeen regulations awaiting final approval are considered “economically significant,” with an estimated economic impact of at least $100 million a year." Here are fifteen of the most important ones:

  • A new policy making it easier to hire and retain highly skilled immigrants.
  • A new rule forcing state regulators to tighten oversight of for-profit colleges that operate online courses in their state.
  • New energy efficiency standards.
  • Regulations designed to discourage speculation on commodities trading.
  • A new rule that would regulate air pollution from the oil industry.
  • A change in the way Medicare drug payments are administered.
  • Reform of Medicare payments to doctors, moving toward a system that better evaluates the quality of care they provide.
  • Finishing up an investment treaty with China (though it would require Senate approval in 2017).
  • Speeding through a backlog of debt relief claims from students at ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges, two for-profit colleges that went out of business under pressure from the Obama administration.
  • A ban on cellphone calls on commercial flights.
  • A rule requiring that most freight trains have at least two crew members on duty.
  • Rules for the 2018 version of the Obamacare state insurance marketplaces.
  • Regulation of methane releases from oil and natural gas wells.
  • A major rule on leases for wind and solar projects on federal land.
  • A rule that aims to ensure poor and minority students get their fair share of state and local education funding.

Some of these actions could be overturned either by Trump or by Congress, but not all of them. Congress is restrained by the fact that it has limited floor time to review new rules. Trump is restrained because agency rules go through a lengthy rulemaking process before they're finalized, and he would have to start up this entire process all over again to repeal them.

Of course, all of these actions are also susceptible to court fights, just as they always are. There's no telling how that might turn out.

We've had a busy day of Trump news. I know you all want to be on top of things, so here's the latest. First, Trump was asked what he thought about Sen. Lindsey Graham's statement that sanctions were due against Russia and Vladimir Putin for their hacking during the election. Check out his reply:

I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure we have the kind the security we need. But I have not spoken with the senators and I will certainly will be over a period of time.

Later, asked about Israeli settlements on the West Bank, Trump produced another bit of word salad that made it clear he had no idea what a settlement even was. This is probably why Trump hasn't spoken to the press in such a long time. This kind of callow blather might have been entertaining when it was coming from a buffoon candidate who had no chance of winning,1 but not when it's coming from the president-elect.

In other news, Politico reports that Trump was irritated by President Obama’s comments at Pearl Harbor yesterday. Obama said, "even when hatred burns hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward. We must resist the urge to demonize those who are different." Those are fairly boilerplate remarks, but "these felt to Trump like direct criticism of the president-elect, according to two people close to Trump." Gee, I wonder why?

Finally, Trump announced that Sprint was bringing 5,000 jobs back to America. "I just spoke with the head person," Trump told Bloomberg. "He said because of me they're doing 5,000 jobs in this country." Here's how it played in the nation's press:

The skepticism in these headlines turns out to be warranted. Trump did indeed desperately try to take credit for this, and you will be unsurprised to learn that he was lying. First of all, Sprint announced these jobs back in April. Here's the Kansas City Star: "Sprint Corp. is launching a nationwide service to hand-deliver new phones to customers in their homes. The Direct 2 You service, which first rolled out in a Kansas City pilot, will lead to the hiring of about 5,000 mostly full-time employees as it spreads nationwide."

Second, the Japanese owner of Sprint, Softbank, announced in October that it was creating a huge tech investment fund.

Third, in December, Softbank's CEO announced the fund again after a meeting with Trump, and said that one part of the whole package was the creation of 50,000 new jobs. Today, Sprint reluctantly conceded that its 5,000 jobs were part of the previously announced 50,000 jobs.

And finally, these jobs were announced yet again today.

That makes four times these jobs have been announced. Donald Trump was responsible for none of them.

1Actually, it wasn't entertaining even back then.

UPDATE: It turns out the April jobs are different from the October/December jobs. So they've only been announced three times.

A few days ago I posted an update on how the Republican economic revolution was going in Kansas under Gov. Sam Brownback. Answer: not so great. But that got me curious: what about other states that turned red in the great tea-party wave of 2010? Not just a little red, but all red. I'm talking about states that switched from blue or mixed to fully Republican—governor and legislature—and stayed red for the next six years. This would give tax-cut fever plenty of time to do its thing.

There were nine states that filled the bill, and then I added Louisiana even though it only stayed fully red for four years. I did this because Bobby Jindal was such an annoying loudmouth about his conservative governance, but I was fair: I counted just the four years of full redness to his record. He didn't get any of the blame for the next two years.

Anyway, the results are below. Only three of the ten states managed to beat the national average. That whole supply-side thing might need a little work.

UPDATE: I forgot Michigan! Fixed now.

Ramesh Ponnuru objects to characterizing Paul Ryan's Medicare reform plan as a cut:

In 2013, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the latest version of Ryan’s premium-support idea would generate savings for both the government and Medicare beneficiaries without reducing benefit levels. So no, it doesn’t “definitely” qualify as a cut in benefits, serious or otherwise.

Ponnuru is right about this. Ryan's original plan included stiff caps on spending and a conservative benchmarking plan. He later got rid of those and added a public option, and the CBO did in fact estimate that a plan like this would save money without benefit cuts. It wouldn't save very much money—about 2 percent of total Medicare spending in 2020—but it was still a savings. Nonetheless, there are a few things to keep in mind in case you haven't read all the fine print in the CBO report:

  • Every existing Republican proposal I'm aware of grandfathers existing seniors, who are allowed to stay in the old system if they want to. But CBO estimates that this would reduce total savings to a minuscule 0.3 percent of Medicare spending.
  • After a few years, CBO says there would be no further cost bending. There would still be savings, since the new system would start with a lower cost base than the current system, but savings would no longer increase. It's a one-shot deal.
  • Essentially all of the estimated savings come from an expectation that competition would drive down costs in regions with high spending levels. The assumption here is that high-cost regions are systematically overcharging for reasons unrelated to quality of care.
  • CBO estimates that under the new system, premiums charged by private companies would clock in at half the price charged by the public option. That's pretty astonishing—and hard to believe. But this is just a round-number estimate, and if it's off by even a little bit, seniors would end up with a net increase in total costs, not a net decrease.
  • Republicans have recently said they want to increase the Medicare eligibility age to 67. If this becomes part of the plan, it would obviously represent a huge benefit cut.

In theory, price competition should produce savings. That was the assumption of Obamacare, and for some people that turned out to be true. For others, not so much. Overall, it doesn't seem to have produced anything extraordinary.

The same would almost certainly be true of Ryan's plan. Its savings are minuscule, and are balanced on a knife-edge of multiple CBO assumptions. But this raises a key question: if all this is true, why bother? What's the point of putting an entirely new system in place that's likely to produce nearly identical costs and benefits compared to the current one?

This is what to keep in mind. The answer, most likely, is that Ryan's plan is a Trojan horse. He'll try to get it passed in a form that doesn't have much effect—and therefore not a lot of opposition—but he thinks that a premium support program is easier to cut back than the current system. In a few years, that's what he'll start doing. He's apparently playing a very long game here.

There might be other reasons, of course. But this is still the key question: why is Ryan so invested in passing a plan that would supposedly have virtually no effect on costs or services? Cui bono?

POSTSCRIPT: In the Trojan horse category, I forgot to mention things that might be quietly included in the Ryan legislation from the start. After all, his plan is just an outline, and plenty of other Republicans will have a chance to add their own pet ideas.

Take Tom Price, for example, soon to be our new Secretary of Health and Human Services. He's a fan of "balance billing" for Medicare. Never heard of it? That's pretty much what Price and his friends at the AMA are counting on. Ryan Cooper explains here.

Jason Zengerle profiles Sen. Harry Reid:

“As my staff will tell you,” Reid said to me when we spoke the next day, “I’ve done a number of things because no one else will do it. I’ve done stuff no one else will do.” I expected him to give an ­example of a successful parliamentary maneuver or perhaps a brave political endorsement, but instead he mentioned one of the most disreputable episodes of his long career, when, during the 2012 presidential campaign, he falsely accused Mitt Romney of not having paid his taxes. (Even though the facts were wrong, the accusation spurred Romney to release his tax returns, which showed he had only paid 14.1 percent.) “I tried to get everybody to do that. I didn’t want to do that,” Reid said. “I didn’t have anything against him personally. He’s a fellow Mormon, nice guy. I went to everybody. But no one would do it. So I did it.

Brendan Nyhan comments:

Nyhan is right, but my initial reaction to this anecdote was quite different: Reid tried and tried to get someone else to do this, but no one would.

Can you imagine a similar situation on the right? Sean Hannity would have practically paid for the privilege. Rush Limbaugh would have happily spent an entire show on it. The Wall Street Journal edit page would have been all over it. Newt Gingrich would have pitched in. At least 20 or 30 members of the House would have been happy to do it. I bet Jim Inhofe would have given a speech in the well of the Senate in a heartbeat. Half a dozen Super PACs would have rushed to buy air time.

But among liberals, zilch. No one would do something like this. That's pretty amazing.

Oh FFS. We're still not done with the lawsuits over Hillary Clinton's emails:

A three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Tuesday that a lower court judge erred when he threw out the cases as moot after the State Department received tens of thousands of emails from Clinton and more from the FBI following the criminal investigation it conducted.

Watchdog groups Judicial Watch and Cause of Action filed separate suits in 2015, asking that Secretary of State John Kerry and the head of the National Archives, Archivist David Ferriero, be required to refer the Clinton email issue to the Justice Department to consider filing a civil suit to get missing federal records back.

Judicial Watch was founded for the purpose of destroying Bill Clinton, and then switched effortlessly to a new mission of destroying Hillary Clinton. It took more than 20 years, but they finally won. Victory is theirs. Bill Clinton has been out of office for years and Hillary Clinton will never be president of the United States.

But they just can't stop. Maybe there are more emails! Somewhere there's a smoking gun! There just has to be. I swear, 20 years from now, on the day after the funeral of whichever Clinton lives the longest, Judicial Watch will be filing lawsuits against their estate demanding more emails.

POSTSCRIPT: I have never gotten an answer to this question, so I'll try again. In November 2014 Vice News reporter Jason Leopold filed a FOIA request for every email Hillary Clinton sent and received during her tenure as Secretary of State. Unsurprisingly, the State Department pushed back against this very broad request. In January 2015 Leopold filed a lawsuit, and in March, both State and Hillary Clinton agreed to release everything. However, Leopold wasn't happy with the terms of the release, and continued his lawsuit.

So far, so good. State obviously has the authority to release all of Clinton's emails if it wants to, and Leopold has the right to continue his suit. But in May, US District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ordered State to release the emails, and to release them on a remarkably specific—almost punitive—rolling schedule. However, his order provided no reasoning for his decision. So here's my question: what was the legal justification for ordering the release of all of Clinton's emails? This has never happened to any other cabinet officer. Can anyone now file a FOIA request for all the emails of any cabinet officer?

I know I'm missing something here, but I've been missing it for a long time.

Thanks Donald!

Today in Trump tweets:

The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index for December surged nearly four points to 113.7, THE HIGHEST LEVEL IN MORE THAN 15 YEARS! Thanks Donald!

Gee whiz, Donald. Thanks indeed! But maybe you should get back to us after you preside over an eight-year rise from 25 to 109. I'm sure that teensy little one-month blip at the end of the chart was all your doing, but even kindergartners usually fill a whole page with their finger painting before begging for praise from the teacher.

In the aftermath of the UN vote condemning Israeli settlements on the West Bank, John Kerry plans to give a speech today:

In a last-chance effort to shape the outlines of a Middle East peace deal, Secretary of State John Kerry is to outline in a speech on Wednesday the Obama administration’s vision of a final Israeli-Palestinian accord based on bitter lessons learned from an effort that collapsed in 2014.

....Mr. Kerry, the official said, has long wanted to give a speech outlining an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal but was held back by White House officials, who saw it as unnecessary pressure on Israel that would anger Mr. Netanyahu. But that objection was lifted last week as Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry agreed the time had come to abstain on the United Nations resolution.

I don't really understand the motivation at work here. This has nothing to do with my skepticism about the peace process in general, but with the pointlessness of the speech itself. It's sort of like writing a piece of fanfic, where you get to demonstrate to your circle of friends how cleverly you'd tie up all the questions and loose ends in the original work. Except it's not even fanfic: it's more like an outline for a piece of fanfic, and without the opportunity to even display any cleverness.

Both Israel and the Palestinians are keenly aware of every issue separating them. Their inability to make a deal has nothing to do with the lack of a clever-enough plan. They just don't agree with each other and they don't trust each other. Actual negotiations, in which Kerry applied pressure to compromise and helped to build trust, were perfectly defensible even if I personally think there was never any chance of success. But a speech outlining a plan? Why bother?

I dunno. With everything in tatters and only three weeks left in the Obama administration, maybe Kerry feels like he can rip off the diplo-mask and give a truly bracing speech of the kind that no American has ever dared to give. I suppose that could have a modest effect. But what are the odds he has that in mind?

This post starts out in an all-too-familiar way: with a Fox News headline. Here it is:

Food Stamp Fraud at All-Time High: Is It Time to End the Program?

Now, the obvious response to this is twofold. First, they're just lying, aren't they? And second, this is like a headline that says, "Traffic Deaths at All-Time High: Should We Ban Cars?"

But at this point the story takes a strange turn. First, I have no idea where Fox's $70 million figure comes from—and I looked pretty hard for it. The Fox graphic attributes it to "2016 USDA," but as near as I can tell the USDA has no numbers for SNAP fraud more recent than 2011.1

But that's not all: $70 million is a startlingly low figure. In the most recent fiscal year, SNAP cost $71 billion, which means that fraud accounted for a minuscule 0.098 percent of the program budget. Even if this is an all-time high, the Fox high command can't believe this is anything but a spectacular bureaucratic success.

And it would be, if it were true. But it's not. If you look at inaccurate SNAP payments to states, the error rate since 2005 has decreased from 6 percent of the budget to less than 4 percent. However, this isn't fraud anyway: It's just an error rate, and most of the errors are eventually corrected. SNAP "trafficking"—exchanging SNAP benefits for cash—is fraud, but it's been declining steadily too, from 3.8 percent in 1993 to 1.3 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which we have records):

So in any normal sense, the Fox story was a lie. SNAP fraud isn't at an all-time high. It's been declining for years. But here's the thing: The fraud rate in 2011 may have been low, but this was in the aftermath of the Great Recession, when total SNAP payments were very high. So although the percentage is low, the dollar value of fraud clocked in at $988 million. Fox could have used this far higher number, which is, in fact, an all-time high. It's only an all-time high because SNAP was helping far more people, but still. In the Fox newsroom, that would hardly matter.

Bottom line: Yes, Fox is lying in any ordinary sense of the word. But they're also vastly understating the amount of SNAP fraud. Even when they're trying to deceive their audience, it turns out, they're also incompetent.

1SNAP = Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program = food stamps.

Here's a headline over at Vox:

11 things to think about when you lose hope over the rise of white nationalism

The accompanying article is by Jenée Desmond-Harris. Her piece has some excellent correctives for anyone who thinks 2016 was nothing but a long slide backwards into racist hatemongering. Her examples include everything from Beyoncé performing "Formation" at the Super Bowl to the quadrupling of women of color in the Senate.

But I want to argue with the headline (which was probably not written by Desmond-Harris). Has there really been a "rise" in white nationalism? There's no question that neo-Nazis/white nationalists/alt-rightists have gotten louder this year. Nor is there any question that they've gotten a lot of media attention. Nor that they're big fans of Donald Trump. Nor that Trump rather unsubtly accepted their support. But does that mean they've actually become more numerous or more popular or more influential?

This is a real question, and I can't figure out how to get a handle on it. Unsurprisingly, nobody seems to conduct polls asking about support for white nationalism. Nor can I find any estimates about the current and past sizes of white nationalist groups. There are statistics for hate crimes, but they're tricky to use and aren't current anyway.

Other proxies aren't much better. Gallup has recorded a steady decline since the turn of the century in the number of people who want less immigration. Among the white working class, racial resentment scores on the American National Election Survey have been pretty stable for decades, though they ticked up slightly this year. White turnout was no higher in 2016 than it was in previous elections, which means there's little evidence for any kind of "white backlash."

These are crude measures that might relate to broad racial animus but don't tell us anything specifically about white nationalists. The raw number of neo-Nazi types is probably so small that they don't even show up as a blip unless you're focusing solely on them.

The reason I bring this up is simple: If white nationalists aren't, in fact, growing either in numbers or influence, then there's not much reason to write about them in routine news reports. All we're doing is giving them the publicity they crave even though there's nothing especially newsworthy about them.

So are they? Does anyone know of any real evidence on this score?