Kellyanne Conway insists that her reference to the "Bowling Green massacre" was an "honest mistake." Guess what?

In an interview with Cosmopolitan.com conducted by phone days earlier, on Sunday, Jan. 29, Conway used the same phrasing, claiming that President Barack Obama called for a temporary "ban on Iraqi refugees” after the “Bowling Green massacre.” (The quotes did not appear in either of two stories recently published on Cosmopolitan.com.)

"He did, it’s a fact," she said of Obama. "Why did he do that? He did that for exactly the same reasons. He did that because two Iraqi nationals came to this country, joined ISIS, traveled back to the Middle East to get trained and refine their terrorism skills, and come back here, and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre of taking innocent soldiers' lives away."

....In a follow-up text exchange Sunday night, Conway wrote, "Frankly they were terrorists in Bowling Green but their massacre took place in Iraq. At least this got clear-thinking people to focus on what did happen in Bowling Green. I gave new life to that ABC News investigative report and the fact that these two Iraqi nationals came to the US with a plan of death and destruction."

So the whole thing was deliberate, and she'd already given it a test run before she mentioned it on Hardball on February 2. She lied about the "massacre," and then she lied some more after she was caught. She also lied to Cosmo about the Iraqis joining ISIS and traveling back to the Middle East. But hey—at least it got people thinking about refugees being terrorists, and that's what counts, amirite?

From this point forward, we should all assume that everything Conway says is a lie unless proven otherwise.

A reader tweets: "CA high speed rail *and* Trump. Your favorite things, together at last!" The San Francisco Chronicle has the story:

Freshly empowered California Republicans in Congress are pushing the Trump administration to hold off on approving $647 million for the Caltrain system to go electric — something that could kill the redo of a line that carries more than 60,000 riders a day between the South Bay and San Francisco.

Wait a second. Caltrain is just an ordinary commuter line. I have nothing against electrifying it. What kind of bait-and-switch is this? Well, it turns out that this is just leverage to try to kill the LA-San Francisco high-speed rail project:

The Republicans don’t have anything against Caltrain electrification per se — it’s the high-speed rail line they can’t stand. And high-speed trains will have no way of getting from San Jose to San Francisco if the Caltrain line isn’t electrified....Republicans have long seen high-speed rail as a boondoggle, but they’ve been up against an Obama administration that refused to spike its funding. That’s not a problem anymore.

Huh. That's hardball for sure. Presumably, if Gov. Jerry Brown killed his beloved bullet train, nobody would have any objection to the Caltrain electrification anymore. Unfortunately for Brown, this actually seems like the kind of assholery that would appeal to Trump. We'll know his decision in a week or two.

Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman have a deeply reported story today about the first two weeks of the Trump presidency, filled with lots of juicy little details. But here's what leaped out at me. See if you can figure out what ties together these five excerpts:

  1. Chris Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and an old friend of the president's, said, "I think, in his mind, the success of this is going to be the poll numbers. If they continue to be weak or go lower, then somebody's going to have to bear some responsibility for that."
     
  2. For a sense of what is happening outside, he watches cable, both at night and during the day—too much in the eyes of some aides—often offering a bitter play-by-play of critics like CNN's Don Lemon.
     
  3. [Steve] Bannon remains the president's dominant adviser, despite Mr. Trump's anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council.
     
  4. He almost always makes time to monitor Mr. Spicer's performance at the daily briefings, summoning him to offer praise or criticism, a West Wing aide said.
     
  5. To pass the time between meetings, Mr. Trump gives quick tours to visitors, highlighting little tweaks he has made after initially expecting he would have to pay for them himself.

Trump watches lots of cable; he monitors Sean Spicer's press briefing every day; and he fills up time between meetings by showing off the decor of the White House. He doesn't seem to be very busy with actual work, does he? And yet, he wasn't fully briefed on a simple executive order, something that would have taken no more than a few minutes. What's more, it's pretty obvious that he's also signed other executive orders that he barely understands.

This is pretty much what we all expected from Trump, but it's still jarring to see it confirmed. He spends a lot of time in front of the television, he obsesses about polls, he keeps an eye on the daily press briefing, he seethes with anger at criticism, and he putters around whenever there are no meetings scheduled. In other words, he still thinks he's the star of a reality TV show. He cares about his image and his ratings, but that's about it. When it comes to making America great again, he expects his staff to take care of things.

Here is how I spent a good portion of the Super Bowl today:

From left to right are Charlie, Emmy, and Heidi. In the background is Scout. And here is the exact moment that the Patriots won:

When I got home, Hilbert accused me of being unfaithful. What could I say? The evidence was conclusive. But he forgave me as soon as I changed clothes.

You all may remember that back in 2000-01 Enron engineered an artificial shortage of electricity in California, which sent prices skyrocketing. This was a harrowing affair, and ever since then California has been building new power plants. And building. And building. And building some more.

At the same time, demand for electricity declined after the Great Recession and then flattened out. But California kept building new plants anyway. As we all know, the result of higher supply and lower demand should be lower prices. However, as these three charts excerpted from the LA Times show, that's not how things have worked out:

This seems inexplicable. Why have prices gone up? And why are California utilities continuing to build new power plants even as they're mothballing recently built plants because there's no need for them? Ivan Penn and Ryan Menezes explain:

California regulators have for years allowed power companies to go on a building spree, vastly expanding the potential electricity supply in the state. Indeed, even as electricity demand has fallen since 2008, California’s new plants have boosted its capacity enough to power all of the homes in a city the size of Los Angeles — six times over. Additional plants approved by regulators will begin producing more electricity in the next few years.

The missteps of regulators have been compounded by the self-interest of California utilities, Lynch and other critics contend. Utilities are typically guaranteed a rate of return of about 10.5% for the cost of each new plant regardless of need. This creates a major incentive to keep construction going: Utilities can make more money building new plants than by buying and reselling readily available electricity from existing plants run by competitors.

The over-abundance of electricity can be traced to poorly designed deregulation of the industry, which set the stage for blackouts during the energy crisis of 2000-2001....Instead of lowering electricity costs and spurring innovation, market manipulation by Enron Corp. and other energy traders helped send electricity prices soaring.

....State leaders, regulators and the utilities vowed never to be in that position again, prompting an all-out push to build more plants, both utility-owned and independent....By the time new plants began generating electricity, usage had begun a decline, in part because of the economic slowdown caused by the recession but also because of greater energy efficiency.

The state went from having too little to having way too much power.

“California has this tradition of astonishingly bad decisions,” said McCullough, the energy consultant. “They build and charge the ratepayers. There’s nothing dishonest about it. There’s nothing complicated. It’s just bad planning.”

There you have it. Econ 101 didn't fail after all. Regulated utilities aren't a real market economy, and California's regulators have allowed epic overbuilding because of the trauma of the 2000 blackouts. Utilities have happily taken advantage of this because they make more money from building useless plants than they do from trading with other utilities.

Enron may be long dead, but its ghost lives on. California paid the price for Enron's machinations in 2000, and now it's paying the price again thanks to fear of another Enron happening someday. Plus we got Arnold Schwarzenegger out of the deal.1 It's amazing how much damage a single greedy company can do.

1Schwarzenegger was elected in place of Gov. Gray Davis, who was recalled. But the recall was largely driven by anger over the blackouts and the subsequent rate increases. It never would have happened if not for the electricity crisis.

Your White House at work:

Some early moves by Trump officials have given hints about their priorities — and raised concerns within the administration.

....According to one U.S. official, national security aides have sought information about Polish incursions in Belarus, an eyebrow-raising request because little evidence of such activities appears to exist. Poland is among the Eastern European nations worried about Trump's friendlier tone on Russia.

Read the story for more. Either somebody knows something the rest of us don't, or else those somebodies are stone crazy. Do they really think Poland is sending troops into Belarus?

A new report from the Colorado Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee tells us that among 18-25 years olds, 13 percent report using marijuana daily or near-daily. Mark Kleiman is taken aback that this has gotten hardly any attention:

We know from other studies by Beau Kilmer and his group at RAND that daily/near-daily smokers consume about three times as much cannabis per use-day as less frequent smokers, enough to be measurably impaired (even if not subjectively stoned) for most of their waking hours....The National Survey on Drug Use and Health finds that about one-half of daily or near-daily smokers meet the diagnostic criteria for Substance Use Disorder. That’s a frightening share of users, and of the total population, to be engaging in such worrisome behavior.

....More and more people using cannabis more and more often is a trend that pre-dates legalization and is not restricted to states that have legalized....What is clear is that lower prices...make it easier for users to slip into heavy daily use. Indeed, that’s the main — some of us would say the only significant — risk of legalization. That risk could be reduced by using taxes to prevent the price collapse. So a report on the effects of legalization that neglects heavy use is like a review of the last performance of “Our American Cousin” that doesn’t mention John Wilkes Booth.

That sounds like a lot. On the other hand, if half of daily marijuana users typically have substance use disorders, that about 6.5 percent in Colorado. Here are the national figures for the past decade:

The Colorado figure is higher than than the national figure, but not hugely higher. It's probably not a reason to panic, but it does bear watching.

The kind of people who read this blog are probably in favor of marijuana legalization—as I am—largely because they're the kind of people who use it occasionally and don't see a lot of harm in it. But like alcohol, there's a certain share of the population that will fall into addiction, and that share is likely to increase as marijuana prices come down. There's never a free lunch.

In a post today about Kellyanne Conway's "Bowling Green massacre" lie, Bob Somerby asks an excellent question:

What have they done with the real Kevin Drum?

That's easy: he died on November 8th. Continuing directly:

In his own furious, snark-heavy post, Drum asserts that Conway didn't make an honest mistake in her error-strewn recitation. "Do not for a second think that this wasn't deliberate," Drum says.

....It's plain that Conway made several misstatements on Hardball. Is it possible that her misstatements were made in some type of good faith? That she actually bungled the giant pile of index cards which are constantly fluttering around inside her grievance-fueled head? In our view, she may have known that she was misstating; it's possible that she didn't.

Somerby thinks we should be careful about using the word lie. I agree. Generally speaking, it's always difficult to know if a falsehood is deliberate. That said, let's review the evidence:

  • Contra Somerby, Conway is not some fluttery airhead. She is very smart and she knows exactly what she's doing.
  • She had obviously prepped for her appearance on Hardball. The Bowling Green incident is not something she would have known about otherwise.
  • Here is Conway's quote: "Two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green ______." Watch the video. She didn't stumble or search for words. She said "they were the masterminds behind...." The only type of word that fits at the end is massacre or incident or plot or something similar. Instead, she later claimed that she meant to say terrorists. That's plainly nonsensical.
  • The idea that you'd accidentally use the word massacre in this context is laughable. That's a million miles away from any normal description of what happened. However, it is very handy for scaring the hell out of people about the danger of Muslim refugees.
  • The Trump administration, and Conway in particular, have been spewing falsehoods at firehose volume ever since Election Day. (And before that, of course.) Surely there's a point at which they forfeit the assumption of good faith? Lying is clearly a deliberate strategy on their part.

This is not 1999. Or 2000. Or 2008. Or even 2016. As the Washington Post's Jenna Johnson said in a piece about Trump's claim that 3-5 million illegal votes were cast last year—a piece that Somerby praised—"The voter fraud canard was just one in a rush of falsehoods that poured from Trump and his advisers during his first 10 days in office." The Toronto Star counts 33 Trump falsehoods in his first 14 days. Even if you're a little more forgiving than the Star, that's a whole lot of falsehoods. And that's just Trump. It doesn't include Sean Spicer or Kellyanne Conway or anyone else in the White House. If you do include them, here is Politifact's scorecard:

Kellyanne Conway doesn't have the deep track record that her boss has amassed with Politifact, but what she lacks in quantity she's making up for in quality. Of the statements of hers that Politifact has checked, not a single one was true. Not. A. Single. One.

So: did Conway lie about Bowling Green? I'd say the evidence is overwhelming that she did. Now, under normal circumstances maybe even overwhelming wouldn't be quite enough. You'd need a smoking gun. But that standard doesn't work for the Trump administration. They don't just lie constantly, they repeat lies even after they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're lies. They lie to your face in the most insulting possible way, as Spicer did in his infamous performance on January 21 about the crowds at Trump's inauguration. At some point, the falsehoods come so thick and fast that you have to conclude they're deliberate.

We've easily reached that point. You simply can't cover the Trump administration accurately unless you assume that most of their falsehoods are intentional. How much evidence do you need, after all? It's a new era, folks.

Josh Rogin has a fascinating piece in the Washington Post today about the turmoil within the Trump administration over the immigration order issued last week. Much of this was due to the fact that no one outside the White House, including those who had to carry out the order, were part of the review process. The end result, apparently, was a temporary halt to executive orders "until a process was established that included the input of key officials outside the White House."

But it's worth putting this all in a timeline. Here it is, drawing from Rogin's article and a CNN summary.

Friday afternoon: Trump signs immigration order

Saturday evening: As chaos ensues, "The man charged with implementing the order, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, had a plan. He would issue a waiver for [green-card holders] from the seven majority-Muslim countries whose citizens had been banned from entering the United States."

Later Saturday evening: "White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon wanted to stop Kelly in his tracks. Bannon paid a personal and unscheduled visit to Kelly’s Department of Homeland Security office to deliver an order: Don’t issue the waiver. Kelly, according to two administration officials familiar with the confrontation, refused to comply with Bannon’s instruction.... Respectfully but firmly, the retired general and longtime Marine told Bannon that despite his high position in the White House and close relationship with Trump, the former Breitbart chief was not in Kelly’s chain of command."

Later still on Saturday evening: "Trump didn’t call Kelly to tell him to hold off. Kelly issued the waiver late Saturday night." But the waiver is not announced, and green card holders continue to be denied entry.

2 am Sunday morning: "A conference call of several top officials was convened to discuss the ongoing confusion over the executive order....On the call were Bannon, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, White House Counsel Donald McGahn, national security adviser Michael Flynn, Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State designee Rex Tillerson, who had not yet been confirmed."

8 am Sunday morning: "In mere minutes during an interview with NBC, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said the order 'doesn't affect' green card holders, then later said 'of course' it affects green card holders from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia — the seven countries Trump has temporarily stop immigration from for 90 days."

6 pm Sunday evening: "Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued a statement clarifying their status saying 'lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations.' Another Homeland Security official told CNN...'This is our message to them: get on a plane. Come back to the US. You will be subject to secondary screening, but everything else will be normal.' "

Kelly is implicitly the hero of this story. And yet, he allowed the green card confusion to continue all day Sunday even though he had issued his waiver Saturday night. Some hero.

Members of the Trump administration are starting to drop like flies, and I figure someone should keep track. Note that I'm keeping a spot open for Betsy DeVos in hopes that I can fill it in sometime soon:

So who's next? Well, there's this from Rep. Seth Moulton (D–Mass.):

“What I’ve heard from behind the scenes,’’ Moulton said during a telephone interview on Monday, is that Mattis and others who were left out of Trump’s decision-making loop on the immigration order are asking one another, “What will make you resign? What’s your red line?”

Stay tuned.