President Trump plans to sign an executive order rolling back regulations that his friends find annoying:

The move would address another one of Trump’s campaign promises: Dismantling 2010’s financial reform legislation, known as Dodd Frank. The legislation forced banks to take various steps to prevent another financial crisis, including holding more capital and taking yearly “stress tests” to prove they could withstand economic turbulence. The financial industry, particularly its small community banks, complained the rules went too far.

“We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank,” Trump said during a meeting with business leaders Friday morning. “Because frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine, that had nice businesses, they just can’t borrow money ... because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd Frank.”

Hey, who needs rules to make banks safer and prevent another financial crash? That's for weenies. Trump's rich friends are suffering, and that's all that matters.

But just in case anyone cares, Trump's friends aren't suffering. Last year, total commercial lending hit $2 trillion, compared to $1.5 trillion at the height of the housing bubble. And ever since Dodd-Frank passed, commercial lending has been increasing quite smartly, at about 10 percent per year. That's higher growth than in the two decades before Obama was elected.

But those are just boring old facts. What matters is Trump's fiction about his poor friends who can't get loans. Carry on.

The American economy added 227,000 new jobs last month. Unemployment ticked up slightly from 4.72 percent to 4.78 percent, so the headline rate increased from 4.7 percent to 4.8 percent. The whole jobs report was a little strange, though, due to a whopping revision in BLS's estimate of the total population of the country. Without the controls, 413,000 people re-entered the labor force and the total number of people employed rose by 457,000. Those are both excellent numbers, even if they did cause the official unemployment rate to rise slightly. The labor participation rate rose from 62.7 percent to 62.9 percent regardless of the population revision.

Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees went up at an annual rate of 2.3 percent. By coincidence, that's also the average annual increase for the entire Obama presidency. In an era of low inflation, that's OK but not great. Altogether, this is the last jobs report of the Obama era and the starting point for judging the economic policies of the Trump era:

  • Headline unemployment rate: 4.8 percent
  • U6 unemployment rate: 9.4 percent
  • Labor participation rate: 62.9 percent
  • Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees: $21.84

Tonight, Kellyanne Conway told Chris Matthews:

I bet it's brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. Most people don't know that because it didn't get covered.

Here was Matthews' response: "Let's talk about the major strategic goal of this administration." A better response would have been: "WTF? There was never a massacre in Bowling Green. Are you out of your goddamn mind?"

In case you're wondering, your memory hasn't short-circuited. There was no massacre in Bowling Green that the media inexplicably failed to cover. A couple of Iraqi refugees were arrested for trying to send money and weapons back home to Iraq. The Obama administration subsequently tightened up the vetting for the refugee program. That's all.

And this was five years ago.

Honest to God, these people will say anything. Soon we're going to be hearing about the poisoning of the town reservoir in Terre Haute that killed thousands but was covered up by the Clinton Foundation. And how Obama responded by rounding up every refugee in the country and shipping them off to camps in Alaska. And then Iran nuked the camps, but it was all hushed up because Obama was afraid of antagonizing the ayatollah.

And Chris Matthews will respond by asking about Trump's plans for bringing back good jobs to hardworking Americans in the heartland.

Right now, if you Google "Bowling Green massacre," all the hits are for pieces calling it out as fiction. But just wait a year. It will soon become an article of faith on the conservative email network that hundreds died in the Bowling Green massacre, complete with before-and-after pictures from Google Earth of the Baptist church that was left a smoking crater in the aftermath.

POSTSCRIPT: However, you'll only have to wait until tomorrow for Kellyanne Conway to make an aggrieved statement about how she meant to say Bowling Green mask affair, and it was just a slip of the tongue and the media knows it perfectly well, and they should be ashamed of themselves for always thinking the worst of Trump etc. etc. Just watch.

POSTSCRIPT 2: Do not for a second think that this wasn't deliberate. Conway knows that millions will hear about the Bowling Green massacre, but only thousands are likely to hear that it was just made up. And those thousands will all be liberals who read the New York Times and are never going to vote for Trump anyway.

Sorry about the clickbait headline. Here's what Trump actually said:

Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under threat all around us. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.

That doesn't seem so bad. Trump just wants ministers to be able to speak up and support Godly candidates if they want to. What's the problem with that?

Maybe nothing. Except that repealing the Johnson Amendment would also allow churches to contribute to campaigns. And churches aren't required to disclose their donors. And setting up a church isn't really very hard. Mark Kleiman explains:

The Russian, Chinese, Saudi, and Iranian governments would all, predictably, either find congregations already recognized by the IRS to use as front groups or incorporate new ones. Of course a group organized as a mosque might not be able to wield much influence without stirring up opposition, but nothing bars the Saudis or the Iranians from paying some stooges to set up a fake Baptist church.

....So, like most of Trump’s ideas, this one reduces mostly to corruption and the sacrifice of American sovereignty to foreign — especially Russian — influence. And of course that won’t keep the tame preachers of the Christian Right from backing him all the way.

So maybe my headline wasn't really so clickbaity after all? It all depends on the fine print, I guess.

Read the Fine Print

See update below.

A few years ago I switched to T-Mobile. The price was good, and their plans included tethering at no extra cost. I mostly use my phone as a mobile hotspot with only occasional forays into text, talk, and apps, so this was a good deal.

A few weeks ago Marian switched over too. When we did that, we also switched to their unlimited data plan. We didn't really need it, but it was only a few dollars more than our old plan, so why not?

Well, ever since then my hotspot performance has been lousy. At first I paid no attention. Sometimes this stuff happens. But it went on and on, and eventually I wondered if I had missed something. It turns out I had: the unlimited plan includes unlimited 4G except for the hotspot. Here's the fine print: "Tethering at Max 3G speeds." That's bad enough, but in practice it seems to mean "3G except when we don't feel like it," since about half the time my hotspot performance reminds me of using a dial-up modem back in the 80s. Why? Because I didn't read the fine print to the fine print: "Smartphone and tablet usage is prioritized over Mobile Hotspot Service (tethering) usage."

As you can see, it's all right there in the description of the plan. How could I have missed it? It's plain as day if only I'd looked at it with a magnifying glass or the sales rep had pointed it out. But I didn't and he didn't. So now I'm stuck paying more for a plan that delivers less of what I actually want. And why did T-Mobile do this? Because they now have a new product: for $20 per month, you can get 4G hotspot performance. Fabulous.

I'm so tired of this shit. It seems like it applies to practically everything I buy these days. There's always something.

UPDATE: I remain annoyed about this, but when I complained to T-Mobile about this they promptly switched me back to my old plan. In fact, they switched me back a better, cheaper plan than I used to have. So it all worked out.

Well, it's morning for me, anyway. First up, under headlines you never thought you'd see:

That's from the LA Times last night. Here's another headline from Reuters:

Conveniently, this means that the current "Countering Violent Extremism" program will no longer target white supremacist groups. It's good to see that Trump is demonstrating some loyalty to the groups that supported him so faithfully throughout the election. They've been harassed too much by the federal jackboots already, amirite?

Next up, we're learning more details about President Trump's Great Southern Wall:

In one of the Star Trek movies, Scotty uses an Apple Macintosh to whip up the formula for transparent aluminum. Maybe that's what this is! A wall you can see through! Sadly, though, the truth turns out to be less futuristic: the "transparent wall" will be a non-wall. That is to say, it will be "sensors and other technology," just like it is now. This, of course, is what wall enthusiasts have been bitching about forever. When Trump said he'd build a wall, they wanted a wall, dammit, not a bunch of namby-pamby sensors.

Finally, here is today's Gallup poll on what Americans think of Trump's recent executive orders:

It's heartening to see that a majority of Americans disapprove of his Muslim ban (by 13 points) and the suspension of the Syrian refugee program (by 22 points). Maybe there's hope for us after all.

Christopher Ingraham at Wonkblog pointed me to an interesting bit of data yesterday. It's the Martin-Quinn measure of how the Supreme Court tilts over time, and apparently it's widely accepted as reasonably accurate. Here it is for the entire postwar period:

There are two fascinating nuggets here:

  • Despite conservative kvetching, the Court has leaned conservative for all but seven years from 1946 to 2013. The seven years of the Warren Court are literally the only period in recent history during which the Court has been consistently liberal.
  • The Martin-Quinn measure depends on the votes of the median judge, which is Anthony Kennedy right now. This is what accounts for the Court's recent shift to the left. According to his Martin-Quinn score, Kennedy has been getting steadily less conservative ever since he joined the Court, and over the past three years he's become positively liberal:

I suppose this is old news to veteran court watchers, but it's new to me. Has Kennedy really shifted that much over his career? And is he now generally left of center? If so, does this have anything to do with the effect of Sotomayor and Kagan joining the Court in 2009-10? It sure looks like it.

Two years ago the Obama administration issued an executive order that allowed the Treasury Department to sanction any organization engaged in "cyber-enabled activities...that are reasonably likely to result in, or have materially contributed to, a significant threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the United States." (This was after the Sony hack.)

In late 2016, in retaliation for the Russian interference with the US election, Obama issued another executive order. This one added the Russian security service (FSB) and several other Russian actors to the list of sanctioned organizations.

Today, the Trump administration loosened these sanctions:

All transactions and activities otherwise prohibited pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13694 of April 1, 2015...are authorized that are necessary and ordinarily incident to....

(1) Licenses, permits, certifications, or notifications issued or registered by the [FSB] for the importation, distribution, or use of information technology products in the Russian Federation....

(2) Complying with law enforcement or administrative actions or investigations involving the Federal Security Service; and

(3) Complying with rules and regulations administered by the Federal Security Service.

What does this mean? Payments are limited to $5,000 per calendar year, so the payments themselves are not what's important. Nor does this order allow the sale or export of goods to the FSB itself. What it does is allow payments to the FSB for the licenses required to sell IT equipment in Russia.

How big a deal is this? What kinds of exports have been held up because it was illegal to pay for the FSB permits that were required? Is this just a minor fix for an unanticipated side-effect of the sanctions, or is it the first small step in loosening other sanctions on Russia? Good question. Perhaps some Russia expert will weigh in on this.

UPDATE: For what it's worth, conservative sanctions expert Eric Lorber says this is probably just a benign fix to an "unintended consequence" of the original sanctions ordered by Obama.

UPDATE 2: Last year Russia passed a law requiring that metadata for all communications be stored for 3 years (by phone companies) and 1 year (by internet providers). In addition, the content of all communications must be stored for 6 months, and decryption keys have to be provided to the state security authorities. The new rules take effect in 2018.

A reader emails to say that the problem with the Obama sanctions is that they prevent Western companies from engaging with the FSB to understand exactly how the new law will be interpreted. I don't entirely understand why that requires any money to change hands, but hey. It's Russia. So maybe this wrinkle is what the easing of the sanctions is really about.

UPDATE 3: I'd sure be interested to hear from the folks who drafted the Obama sanctions. Did they deliberately want to cause Russia pain by preventing the import of IT equipment, or was this just an oversight? Who was responsible for writing and reviewing this stuff, anyway?

In December 2015, Donald Trump released a letter from his physician stating that he takes "81 mg of aspirin daily and a low dose of a statin." Yesterday we learned that's untrue. Here's the New York Times:

President Trump takes medication for three ailments, including a prostate-related drug to promote hair growth, Mr. Trump’s longtime physician, Dr. Harold N. Bornstein, said in a series of recent interviews. The other drugs are antibiotics to control rosacea, a common skin problem, and a statin for elevated blood cholesterol and lipids.

The hair-growth drug, Propecia, has been associated in some men with "depression, anxiety and mental fogginess."

This is all good for a few jokes, but there's something serious here too: Once again, Trump has lied to us. He released a letter saying he takes only one prescription drug. He actually takes three, and obviously he knew this. What else is he lying about?

The raid in Yemen that went pear shaped on Saturday was originally planned under the Obama administration. However, they were unable to complete their detailed assessment before Obama left office. Then Trump and his team took over and—apparently—decided to speed things up:

Mr. Trump’s new national security team, led by Mr. Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a retired general with experience in counterterrorism raids, has said that it wants to speed the decision-making when it comes to such strikes, delegating more power to lower-level officials so that the military may respond more quickly. Indeed, the Pentagon is drafting such plans to accelerate activities against the Qaeda branch in Yemen.

That's the New York Times. Here's the Washington Post on the same subject:

“We expect an easier approval cycle [for operations] under this administration,” another defense official said...“We really struggled with getting the [Obama] White House comfortable with getting boots on the ground in Yemen,” the former official said. “Since the new administration has come in, the approvals [at the Pentagon] appear to have gone up.”

And here is Reuters:

U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations. As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.

Reading between the lines, Trump figured that Obama was a wuss and spent too much time over-litigating this stuff. He wanted action, so he approved the mission. It went badly, and now military officials are blaming Trump, telling reporters that he went ahead "without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations."

Is that really what happened? Or is the Pentagon throwing Trump under the bus for a failure that's their fault? I suppose we might find out if Congress decided to investigate, but that would be out of character for them. After all, Congress rarely spends its time holding contentious hearings about missions in dangerous parts of the world that go south and get people killed. I can't think of one recently, anyway.