House Democrats have asked Secretary of Defense James Mattis to investigate potentially illegal payments from Russia's government to retired General Mike Flynn, currently serving as President Trump's National Security Advisor:

Defense Department rules make it clear that this restriction also applies to payments from entities owned by foreign governments, including state-owned press operations like RT. Nonetheless, Jason Chaffetz and other House Republicans have no interest in pursuing this. IOKIYAR.

Russ Choma has more here.

As part of his touching remarks about Black History Month this morning, President Trump boasted that he "ended up getting substantially more" of the African-American vote than past Republican candidates. Glenn Kessler briefly picks this apart here, but everything is better with a chart. So here's a chart. It shows the share of the black vote since 1972 for Republicans running against white Democrats:

Trump really kicked ass, didn't he?

February is Black History Month and Donald Trump is all over it:


Question: Is Trump really as ignorant and contemptible as he seems? Or is this deliberate on this part, a wink to his white base that he doesn't take this stuff seriously and is only reciting his lines because he has to?

In Israel, it's a new era:

Israel approved 3,000 more housing units in the occupied West Bank late Tuesday, the largest number in a wave of new construction plans that defy the international community and that open a forceful phase in the country’s expansion into land the Palestinians claim for a future state.

Emboldened by the new Trump administration and internal battles at home, Israel announced plans for the new units in about a dozen settlements a week after approving 2,500 homes in the West Bank and 566 in East Jerusalem.

....Mr. Trump seems not to share former President Barack Obama’s opposition to the settlements....[Husam Zomlot, strategic affairs adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority] said that Mr. Netanyahu was using this time of political transition in the United States to test how the new administration’s stance might differ from that of Mr. Obama. The Israeli prime minister is to meet with Mr. Trump in Washington on Feb. 15.

In return for Trump's support, perhaps Netanyahu will loan him a few experts in wall building.

Lots of Democrats want to take a scorched-earth approach toward the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court. I'm totally on board with this. The Republican blockade of Merrick Garland was flat-out theft, and no party with any self-respect can let that go without a fight.

Still, I'm curious: how is this supposed to play out? If Democrats filibuster Gorsuch, then either Mitch McConnell kills the filibuster or he doesn't. If he allows the filibuster to stand and Gorsuch is defeated, Trump will nominate another conservative. And no matter how much McConnell is dedicated to Senate institutions, the second time around he'd kill the filibuster for sure. He's not going to allow Dems to filibuster Supreme Court nominees for four years, after all.

Substantively, then, it doesn't matter much. We're getting a conservative Supreme Court justice one way or another. But Jonathan Chait says a filibuster is important because Dems have to make McConnell own the brave new world he's created. Richard Yeselson agrees:

I'm fine with this. But why is forcing McConnell to kill the filibuster a win for Democrats? Personally, I think they should block Gorsuch just to show they have a spine. I just don't understand why anyone cares whether McConnell is forced to get rid of the filibuster.

POSTSCRIPT: When I first heard that Gorsuch was on Trump's short list a couple of days ago, I thought: I know it's just a coincidence, but I'd sure want to avoid anyone named Gorsuch. But no. It turns out it wasn't a coincidence at all: Gorsuch is indeed the son of infamous Reagan EPA director Anne Gorsuch Burford. Enough with the dynasties!

ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT: Anne Gorsuch Burford did her best to tear down the EPA, and perhaps her biggest blunder was her determination to scrap the rules for phasing out lead in gasoline. Thank God she failed.

Kadee Russ, formerly a senior economist for the CEA and now a professor of economics at UC Davis, has taken a rough cut at the distributional effects of a border adjustment tax, the front-runner among "sort of a tariff" tax plans currently making the rounds in Congress. A BAT would supposedly raise about $200 billion per year, but raise it from whom? Here's her estimate:

Isn't that a shocker? It's a regressive tax that hits the working class harder than it does the rich. What's more, the whole point of imposing a BAT is to raise money so that personal income taxes can be slashed on the rich top marginal rates on job creators can be reduced. This whole Trump presidency thing is working out really well for the working class, isn't it?

TECHNICAL NOTE: Russ calculated the cost of the tax by income decile. I merged her first eight deciles into four quintiles. Click the link to see her original estimates.

Ladies and gentlemen, our negotiator-in-chief:

Donald Trump, two weeks ago: "Pharma has a lot of lobbies, a lot of lobbyists, and a lot of power. And there's very little bidding on drugs. We're the largest buyer of drugs in the world, and yet we don't bid properly."

Donald Trump, today, after meeting with Pharma lobbyists: "I'll oppose anything that makes it harder for smaller, younger companies to take the risk of bringing their product to a vibrantly competitive market. That includes price-fixing by the biggest dog in the market, Medicare, which is what's happening."

All it took was a few minutes and Trump caved completely to the pharmaceutical industry. It's yet another defeat for the working class. Add this to the higher prices they'll pay if he puts his tariffs in place; the decimation of Medicare they'll suffer if Paul Ryan's vouchers are enacted; the nursing care costs they'll have to pay if Medicaid is block granted; and the subsidies for health coverage they'll lose when he repeals Obamacare.

Working class folks are losing bigly under Trump. I wonder when they'll get tired of losing?

I see that Peter Navarro, one of our many new trade gurus, is taking a break from attacking China and is now attacking Germany. Why? Because it's unfair that the euro area has lots of weak countries that have collectively produced a weak euro, which gives Germany an advantage in its export business. This is all true enough, and I'm no fan of 21st century German economic policy, but it's a little pointless right now. The euro isn't going away, and neither is the fact that Europe's overall economy is in pretty poor shape.

Still, I've been wondering when Germany would come into the crosshairs of the Trump administration. There's a pretty obvious reason to attack them:

Japan has mostly escaped Trump's ire for some reason, but I imagine they're next. After that, I guess Ireland is up to bat. None of this jawboning is likely to do any good, however. As long as the dollar stays strong, we're going to have trade deficits. And so far it's staying pretty strong:

Trump says he wants the trade deficit to decline. This means he wants our trade surplus to increase (from negative to zero), and for that to happen net national savings also have to increase. This is an accounting identity. Now, Trump very plainly has no plans to increase public saving by attacking the budget deficit. In fact, his tax plans will almost certainly explode the deficit to around the trillion dollar territory, which will reduce public saving. This means that private saving would need to increase by a trillion dollars or so for the trade deficit to go away. What are the odds of that?

Trump and his team can blather all they want. But if they want the trade deficit to decline, they need a weaker dollar and higher national savings. Nothing they're doing points in the direction of either one of those things. Until that happens, it's all just hot air.

The Fact Checker Full Employment Act of 2016, sometimes known as Election Day, has been a resounding success. Our nation's fact checkers have hired thousands of new employees,1 and the United States is now the world leader in fact checking.2 Donald Trump is yet again fulfilling his promise to put America back to work.3

Today, for example, Glenn Kessler and his staff of 247 university-trained fact checkers4 looked into Trump's claim that only 109 people were detained as part of the chaos of his immigration order. Even on its own terms, this number appears to have been plucked from nowhere. Kessler figures the real number is several hundred, maybe as many as a thousand. But as he says, that doesn't provide the full picture anyway. Here's the real impact of the immigration order:

Collectively, these countries are 97 percent Muslim, so about 87,000 of those affected are Muslim. Please don't call it a Muslim ban, though.

1Fact check: Too good to check.

2Fact check: Probably true.

3Fact check: False. Obama put America back to work.

4Fact check: False. Kessler actually has a staff of 246.

I mentioned this in the previous post, but it probably deserves a post all its own. Here are Brian Bennett and Noah Bierman of the LA Times, reporting on how Trump's top advisors believe his immigration order is just the beginning of a much larger crackdown:

Trump’s top advisors on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment to fundamentally transform how the U.S. decides who is allowed into the country and to block a generation of people who, in their view, won’t assimilate into American society.

....The chief architects of Trump’s order, Bannon, Miller and National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn, forged strong bonds during the presidential campaign. The trio, who make up part of Trump’s inner circle, have a dark view of refugee and immigration flows from majority-Muslim countries.

....“We don’t want a situation where, 20 to 30 years from now, it’s just like a given thing that on a fairly regular basis there is domestic terror strikes, stores are shut up or that airports have explosive devices planted, or people are mowed down in the street by cars and automobiles and things of that nature,” the official said.

Steve Bannon, of course, has made it very clear on previous occasions what he thinks of Islam. In a presentation to a Vatican conference a couple of years ago, he attributed the growing power of the populist right to two things. First, there was the Great Recession, which showed ordinary people that capitalism was rigged against them. And second, there is Islam:

I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian West, is in a crisis.

....We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it....It’s going global in scale, and today’s technology, today’s media, today’s access to weapons of mass destruction, it’s going to lead to a global conflict that I believe has to be confronted today. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.

....If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept [Islam] out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places....And they were able to stave this off, and they were able to defeat it, and they were able to bequeath to us a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind, so I think it’s incumbent on all of us to do what I call a gut check, to really think about what our role is in this battle that’s before us.

Bannon acknowledges that the populist right includes "some aspects that may be anti-Semitic or racial," but that doesn't bother him much. They provide useful shock troops, and eventually "it all gets kind of washed out" anyway.

So: do you think Bannon's intent when he orchestrated Trump's immigration order was anti-Muslim? Hell, he's all but admitted it. Bannon believes we're in the middle of a global war, and when push comes to shove, he's on the side of the white, Christian West, and against the brown, Muslim East. And he believes there's little time to waste.

FDR felt the same way about the Axis in 1940, but he knew the country wasn't ready to go to war. He needed a provocation, and it needed to be something big enough to rally the country behind. He passed up several opportunities because they were too small to accomplish what he wanted, but eventually the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and that was all he needed. The country united behind him and we spent the next four years dedicated to the unconditional surrender of fascism.

Friday's immigration order is merely the opening salvo in Bannon's war, designed to stir up the troops and begin the process of targeting Muslims as the enemy. Think of it as Lend-Lease. To truly get the United States—and the West—dedicated to the unconditional surrender of Islam, he needs a mammoth provocation. Even 9/11 wasn't enough. He's going to need something bigger.

Would he be willing to engineer such a provocation? Probably. Could he actually do it? That's a lot harder to answer. But I don't doubt that, one way or another, this is his ultimate goal. That's why he's now a principal on the National Security Council. That's why he's an illegal immigration hawk: not because he cares much about Mexico, but because it gains him the right kind of allies for a war he does care about. And it's why he appeals to white nationalists and far-right European parties: not because he believes their racial nonsense (probably), but because they're exactly the kind of people who are most likely to support a war against Islam. Bannon is a smart guy, and it's the logical place to start.

As Josh Harkinson has reported, Bannon is deadly serious about this war, and there's no way he'll get it just by jawboning. It will only happen if there are a lot of dead bodies somewhere in America, and that means we have to do something to provoke a massive response from Osama bin Laden 2.0, whoever that turns out to be. The immigration order is a pinprick, just something to test the waters. Think of it as market research. More will be coming.