One of the most infamous sections of Steve Bannon's Breitbart News was "Black Crime." It was exactly what it sounds like. Then Bannon went to Washington DC to work for the president, who promptly announced a program to highlight victims of immigrant crime. Today, we get this:

The racial demagoguery from the Trump administration just keeps coming and coming. Granted, racial demagoguery is as American as apple pie, but have we had a president in recent memory who was happy to be so blatant about it? It's hard to put into words how disgusting this is.

The Columbia Journalism Review put up a bunch of cool charts a few days ago. First up, here's the Twitter ecosystem during the presidential campaign:

On the right, there's one site that dwarfs everyone else: Breitbart News. Even Fox News is only a fraction the size. On the left and center, there's no single dominant player. The Huffington Post had a good election season, but it competed on even terms with traditional news sources like CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Here are the top five retweeted sites among partisans:

Three of top five on the right are highly partisan sites, including Breitbart at the top and the crackpot Gateway Pundit site in fourth place. There's nothing similar on the left. Here's the same data in scatterplot form:

On the right, Breitbart stands alone, with twice the Twitter shares of Fox and four times the share of the also-rans. On the left, there are five major sites before you get a big drop to the rest of the pack, and four of the five are nonpartisan. The same charts for Facebook shares show much the same thing, and this had a big effect on mainstream coverage of the race:

The constant drumbeat on the right from partisan sources amplified Donald Trump's message both on issues and on scandals. Trump issues got more attention than Clinton issues, while Clinton scandals got more attention than Trump scandals. Here's the conclusion from the CJR authors:

This pro-Trump media sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for the conservative media sphere, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, in particular coverage of Hillary Clinton....While mainstream media coverage was often critical, it nonetheless revolved around the agenda that the right-wing media sphere set: immigration. Right-wing media, in turn, framed immigration in terms of terror, crime, and Islam, as a review of Breitbart and other right-wing media stories about immigration most widely shared on social media exhibits.

....What we find in our data is a network of mutually-reinforcing hyper-partisan sites that revive what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics,” combining decontextualized truths, repeated falsehoods, and leaps of logic to create a fundamentally misleading view of the world. “Fake news,” which implies made of whole cloth by politically disinterested parties out to make a buck of Facebook advertising dollars, rather than propaganda and disinformation, is not an adequate term. By repetition, variation, and circulation through many associated sites, the network of sites make their claims familiar to readers, and this fluency with the core narrative gives credence to the incredible.

....Rebuilding a basis on which Americans can form a shared belief about what is going on is a precondition of democracy....To accomplish this, traditional media needs to reorient, not by developing better viral content and clickbait to compete in the social media environment, but by recognizing that it is operating in a propaganda and disinformation-rich environment. This, not Macedonian teenagers or Facebook, is the real challenge of the coming years.

Amen to that.

This should cheer up the president:

President Trump is preparing to sign a new executive order Monday that White House officials hope can withstand legal scrutiny in imposing a 90-day ban on U.S. entry for new visa seekers from six majority-Muslim nations, according to a fact sheet the administration sent to Congress.

In addition, the nation’s refu­gee program will be suspended for 120 days, and it will not accept more than 50,000 refugees in a year, down from the 110,000 cap set by the Obama administration.

....The new order provides other exceptions not contained in previous versions: for travelers from those countries who are legal permanent residents of the United States, dual nationals who use a passport from another country, those attending diplomatic missions, and those who have been granted asylum or refu­gee status. It will attempt to outline a more robust national security justification; the fact sheet said 300 people who entered the country as refugees were currently the subject of FBI counterterrorism investigations.

The big difference here is that the Muslim ban applies only to new visa applicants, not to folks who already have a visa. In addition, Iraq has been removed from the list and green card holders are exempt. The temporary refugee suspension, which applies to every country, appears unchanged.

The problem, of course, is that despite the attempt to "outline a more robust national security justification," past comments about wanting to ban Muslims are still on the record. However, considering that Trump has dawdled on this for five weeks, his lawyers ought to be pretty well prepped to defend it. And since it applies only to new visa seekers, it won't produce anywhere near the chaos of the previous order. Unlike the January order, this one should probably produce a fairly quiet court fight, and not much more.

This is apropos of nothing in particular, but a couple of days ago I happened to run across this chart on the Justice Department website:

Since 1996, arrests of juveniles have fallen by two-thirds. Arrests for violent crimes have fallen by more than two-thirds. Bottom line: Kids today are way better behaved and way less scary than they were in the 90s. One of these days we ought to start acting like we know this.

Over at the Washington Post, Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker report on the Trump White House:

Trump was mad — steaming, raging mad....“He was pissed,” said Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax, a conservative media company. “I haven’t seen him this angry.”...At the center of the turmoil is an impatient president increasingly frustrated....Trump [] has been feeling besieged, believing that his presidency is being tormented in ways known and unknown by a group of Obama-aligned critics, federal bureaucrats and intelligence figures....The next morning, Trump exploded....Trump summoned his senior aides into the Oval Office, where he simmered with rage....In a huff, Trump departed for Mar-a-Lago....Trump was brighter Sunday morning as he read several newspapers, pleased that his allegations against Obama were the dominant story, the official said....But he found reason to be mad again.

That's the president. Here's his chief of staff, Reince Priebus:

As reporters began to hear about the Oval Office meeting, Priebus interrupted his Friday afternoon schedule to dedicate more than an hour to calling reporters off the record to deny that the outburst had actually happened, according to a senior White House official....Ultimately, Priebus was unable to kill the story. He simply delayed the bad news, as reports of Trump dressing down his staff were published by numerous outlets Saturday.

In other words, the president's chief of staff spent a full hour of his time on Friday lying to reporters off the record. Why? To cover up for the fact that Trump routinely melts down when he gets bad press. The only thing that cheered him up was all the attention he got when he told an outrageous lie about Barack Obama.

Finally, this: "Some Trump advisers and allies were especially disappointed in Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who two days earlier had hitched a ride down to Florida with Trump on Air Force One." This is truly their world view. Trump let Rubio fly on Air Force One, so Trumpworld expected Rubio to back up Trump's lie. Transactional to the end.

And this: the Post's story was based on 17 interviews with "top White House officials, members of Congress and friends of the president." In other words, people who are basically sympathetic to Trump. What's up with that? Do these people really think that painting Trump as a petulant two-year-old will make him look better?

Our story so far: President Trump got good reviews for his speech to Congress on Tuesday, and that made him happy. Then it all blew up thanks to revelations the next day that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had met twice with the Russian ambassador during the campaign. On Friday, Sessions recused himself from the investigation of ties between Trump and Russia, and Trump had a temper tantrum. He had finally been presidential, and now it was all down the drain. Everyone was talking about Russia again.

The next morning, still in a lather, he went to his usual playbook: hit back. But he needed something big, so he decided to accuse President Obama of wiretapping him. This took everyone by surprise, including his own staff. But it sort of worked: nobody cares all that much about Sessions anymore.

So then: did Obama order a wiretap on Trump Tower? Needless to say, Obama's spokesman says no. How about the CIA? Here is Obama's Director of National Intelligence on Meet the Press this morning:

CHUCK TODD: Let me start with the President's tweets yesterday, this idea that maybe President Obama ordered an illegal wiretap of his offices. If something like that happened, would this be something you would be aware of?

JAMES CLAPPER: ....I can't speak officially anymore. But I will say that, for the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign. I can't speak for other Title Three authorized entities in the government or a state or local entity.

CHUCK TODD: Yeah, I was just going to say, if the F.B.I., for instance, had a FISA court order of some sort for a surveillance, would that be information you would know or not know?

JAMES CLAPPER: ....I would know that.

CHUCK TODD: If there was a FISA court order on something like this...

JAMES CLAPPER: Something like this, absolutely.

CHUCK TODD: And at this point, you can't confirm or deny whether that exists?

JAMES CLAPPER: I can deny it.

CHUCK TODD: There is no FISA court order?

JAMES CLAPPER: Not to know my knowledge.

CHUCK TODD: Of anything at Trump Tower?

JAMES CLAPPER: No.

OK, but does the FBI agree? Here's the New York Times:

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones, senior American officials said on Sunday....Mr. Comey’s request is a remarkable rebuke of a sitting president, putting the nation’s top law enforcement official in the position of questioning Mr. Trump’s truthfulness.

....It is not clear why Mr. Comey did not issue the statement himself. He is the most senior law enforcement official who was kept on the job as the Obama administration gave way to the Trump administration. And while the Justice Department applies for intelligence-gathering warrants, the F.B.I. keeps its own set of records and is in position to know whether Mr. Trump’s claims are true. While intelligence officials do not normally discuss the existence or nonexistence of surveillance warrants, no law prevents Mr. Comey from issuing the statement.

Assuming Clapper and Comey are telling the truth, we can say that (a) there was no FISA warrant and (b) President Obama didn't order Trump's phone to be tapped. That still leaves open the possibility that the FBI got an ordinary wiretap warrant as part of a criminal investigation, which neither Obama nor Clapper would know about.

This whole thing is completely, batshit crazy. Everyone knows that Trump is just making stuff up: He saw an article in Breitbart and decided to throw some chum in the water. The White House has even confirmed this. But the press has to report it anyway because the president said it, and Republicans in Congress will allow the craziness to continue because they don't care. They just want to repeal Obamacare and get their tax cut passed. So Trump can do anything he wants and get endless publicity for it, with no pushback except from Democrats. And nobody cares what Democrats say.

The Trump presidency gets loonier by the day. It's like one of those TV shows where they have to keep upping the ante to keep viewers interested. Trump started his presidency with his childish temper tantrum about crowds at his inauguration, but that seems like small beer now. To get any attention these days, he needs way more. So how about a childish temper tantrum that accuses the former president of ordering his phone tapped?

How far can this go? I'm stumped. Every time Trump is in a bad mood, something like this happens. And since Trump is in a bad mood whenever he isn't being universally praised, this stuff is going to keep happening forever. Are tax cuts and Obamacare really worth so much to Republicans that they're OK with having this ignorant, short-tempered child in the White House for the next four years? I mean, maybe nothing serious will happen during that time, and we'll be more-or-less OK. But what about the chance that something serious does happen and Trump does some real damage to the United States or to the world?

Is it really worth it taking that chance? Just for some tax cuts?

I was looking forward to the next White House press briefing, knowing that whoever ran it would be inundated with questions about President Trump's dimwitted suggestion that President Obama had him wiretapped. That would be fun! But I underestimated the cleverness of Sean Spicer:

In a statement from his spokesman, Mr. Trump called “reports” about the wiretapping “very troubling” and said that Congress should examine them as part of its investigations into Russia’s meddling in the election.

“President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said in the statement.

No comment until the "investigation" is finished! That's brilliant. I don't know if it will work, but it's brilliant. I wonder how aggressive the press corps will be about calling out this obvious artifice?

Catherine Rampell notes a contradiction:

This is easily explained. First, Republicans routinely try to cut the IRS enforcement budget as a favor to the rich, who dislike being audited. Second, Trump's budget, like his tweets, is a showpiece for his fans, not a serious document.

See, Congress is going to ignore Trump's budget, and he knows it. However, he wants credit for having the guts to shake things up and propose big cuts. This will impress his base, which naively assumes that things like official budget documents are serious stuff. What's more, years from now, when we're running monster deficits thanks to Trump's tax cuts, he'll be able to say that he tried to cut the budget, but couldn't get the pathetic lifers in Congress to go along.

It's all part of the Trump Show, and we are just the audience.

President Trump has been promising a health care plan for months now. But when will we have it? Let's roll the tape:

January 15: "It’s very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven’t put it in quite yet but we’re going to be doing it soon."

February 5: "I would like to say by the end of the year at least the rudiments but we should have something within the year and the following year."

February 16: "We're doing Obamacare, we're in the final stages. So, we will be submitting sometime in early March, mid-March."

February 27: "We have come up with a solution that's really, really, I think, very good."

So we've gone from immediately to 2018 to mid-March to all done. Today, however, Politico reports that in reality, Trump has no plan at all: "His team has signaled to House Speaker Paul Ryan that they will embrace his health care bill next week, and aides hoped to get a marked-up bill ready."

Since the House bill is apparently what we're going to get, it's worth repeating something I wrote a few months ago. After describing both Obamacare and Ryancare in broad strokes, I noted that their foundations were basically the same:

If you haven't yet noticed what this all means, let me spell it out. The key parts of Obamacare and Ryan's plan are the same. They both (a) rely on private insurance, (b) require insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions, (c) encourage people to buy insurance continuously by penalizing them if they don't, (d) provide billions of dollars in federal subsidies to make insurance affordable for low-income households, and (e) rely on Medicaid for the very poorest.

As liberals have been pointing out forever, any kind of health care plan has to have three parts:

  • Protection for pre-existing conditions at a reasonable price, so everyone has access to insurance.
  • Some kind of incentive for everyone to buy insurance, so insurance companies have plenty of healthy people to balance out the sick people.
  • Subsidies so that poor people can afford coverage.

Sure enough, Ryancare has all those things, just like Obamacare. There are differences in the details, but those don't matter very much. What does matter is the difference in cost. Obamacare provides subsidies of about $100 billion per year, while Ryancare provides...something much less. We don't know exactly how much less yet, but certainly less than half of Obamacare, maybe as little as a quarter. This is what makes Ryancare useless, not its overall structure, which is fairly workable. The working poor and the working class can only barely afford insurance even with Obamacare's subsidies. They won't come close with Ryancare's.

But the rich will get a big tax cut, and the middle class will get a nice break on their health insurance. In short order, however, interstate deregulation will almost certainly lead to individual insurance becoming all but useless, and the individual insurance market will probably collapse fairly soon after that. Alternatively, it might collapse even before Ryancare goes into effect, as insurers bail out on Obamacare (why bother with it if it's just going away soon?) and conclude that they can't make money on Ryancare either.

See? It's not so complicated after all. I imagine this is what Paul Ryan has wanted all along.

I was reading something yesterday about President Trump's desire to speed up FDA approvals for new drugs, so I decided to check: how long does FDA approval take these days? Here are the numbers over the past decade:

I've used a 3-year rolling average to smooth out the spikes, but the trend is pretty obvious. In the past ten years, the time to approve new drugs has been cut in half and the approval rate has tripled. Note that this is only for "standard" drugs, not "priority" drugs, so it's not contaminated by special treatment given for certain lifesaving compounds.

I'm sympathetic to arguments that our narrow escape from the thalidomide disaster of the early 60s traumatized FDA scientists, and they overreacted by making approvals too hard. The problem is that the lesson of thalidomide approval in Europe isn't that approvals were done too quickly, it's that approvals shouldn't be based on handwaving from pharmaceutical companies. As long as the testing regimen is rigorous enough, there's no reason that approvals shouldn't be done in a timely way.

That said, how much faster does Trump want approvals to go? A recent study suggests that the average FDA approval time is now considerably faster than Europe's, and that "the vast majority" of new drugs were first approved for use in the United States:

If anything, the FDA may have become too aggressive. They've made some far-reaching reforms in only a decade. Ten years from now, the chart to look at will be a comparison of drug catastrophes before and after this change.1

1I don't mean this in a snarky way. There's no cosmic "right answer" for how fast new drugs should be approved. It's all a matter of how much risk we're willing to take vs. how long we're willing to delay potentially effective therapies. A decade from now, we'll need to look back and see just how much extra risk, if any, the FDA has introduced into the system.