One of the benefits of being sick—oh, bollocks. There are no benefits to being sick. However, with a couple of short interludes, I slept until about 1:30 in the afternoon today, which is 4:30 for you elitist East Coasters. That means I missed the whole day. So when I finally felt well enough to reach over to the table for my tablet, I was able to take in the entire glorious panorama of 2017's first Friday the 13th all at once. I shall now present it to you approximately as I experienced it.

Donald Trump met today with Steve Harvey, Geraldo Rivera, and a physicist who says global warming is going to be good for us.

Rep. Steve King unveiled his scale model of a wall on the Mexican border:

Very nice, don't you think? The wall is made from graham crackers spray painted gray, and the razor wire is made from dental floss rolled around an empty saran wrap tube and stiffened using egg whites. All that's missing is little tiny Mexicans on one side looking frustrated because they can no longer get into the United States.

Big banks continue to show gangbuster results on hopes that Trump and his congressional allies will get rid of all those annoying regulations that Obama passed after they nearly destroyed the world during the Great Crash. On the same day, Moody's reminded us what all those regulations were about when it agreed to pay nearly a billion dollars to settle claims over "certain statements" it made during the runup to the Great Crash.

A few days ago FBI Director James Comey refused to say if the FBI was investigating Donald Trump's ties to Russia. "I would never comment on investigations in an open forum," he said to general snickering. Still, at least this left open the possibility that he'd inform Congress in a closed session.

No such luck—and Democrats are apoplectic. The Huffington Post collected a potpourri of comments: "No credibility...disappointed, outraged...not trust him at all...great sense of disappointment." Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC News: "I think there's been a profound question raised as to whether director Comey is dealing in an evenhanded manner with the investigation of the Clinton emails and any investigation that may or may not be happening with respect to the Trump campaign."

House Republicans decided by fiat that deficit spending caused by repealing Obamacare doesn't count:

However, Newt Gingrich thinks this doesn't go nearly far enough. The CBO is simply out of its depth dealing with the genius who fixed the Wollman Ice Rink thirty years ago. Trump is going to bring that same hard-charging, entrepreneurial spirit to Washington, and the CBO can't deal with it:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is simply incompatible with the Trump era....It is a left-wing, corrupt, bureaucratic defender of big government and liberalism. Its scoring of ObamaCare was not just wrong, it was clearly corrupt.

....Every reform effort will get a false score from CBO. It is impossible for the current CBO to come anywhere close to an honest, accurate score of a red tape cutting, entrepreneurially hard charging system.

I'm pretty sure the proper translation of this is, "The CBO refuses to score massive tax cuts for the rich as deficit reducing." But maybe I'm just being cynical?

The first leg of California's bullet train will cost 50 percent more than currently budgeted, according to a review by the Federal Railroad Administration.

On the day that President Obama announced sanctions against Russia for its election hacking, the Trump national security team suddenly got as agitated as a teenage girl about to go to her first prom. Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed of Reuters have the story:

Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump's choice for national security adviser, held five phone calls with Russia's ambassador to Washington on the day the United States retaliated for Moscow's interference in the U.S. presidential election, three sources familiar with the matter said.

The calls occurred between the time the Russian embassy was told about U.S. sanctions and the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he had decided against reprisals, said the sources.

I'm sure there was nothing untoward going on here. They were probably just asking each other what they planned to wear to the inauguration.

Finally, Max Sawicky writes something useful about Russia. Those of us who loathe Putin's Russia are not engaging in latter-day red baiting, he says. Far from it:

Today, kleptocratic, capitalist Russia is among the moneyed interests in the world. It’s tempting but simplistic to see Russian leaders as a fairly narrow species of nationalist interlopers in U.S. domestic politics. More to the point, they are allied with germinating, reactionary forces internationally, if only lately inside the United States.

....These movements, need we be reminded, are viciously, violently racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and homophobic. Similar groups run amok in Russia itself with the apparent indulgence of the authorities. The Trump campaign has brought like-minded creatures out from under the rocks of the U.S. right.

....The U.S. welfare/regulatory state with all its flaws contains many seeds for a better system. Trump, with an assist from a cavalcade of shady backers, including Putin’s Russian oligarchy, threatens to uproot these seeds. It’s possible to exaggerate Putin’s role, but it would be wrong to discount it altogether. Any complete survey of the forces colluding against progressive goals must now include the Russian state.

As they say, read the whole thing.

I'm alive. Barely. My congestion decided to migrate up into my ear canals yesterday, so every time I cough my right ear blocks up and the world starts spinning. Unfortunately, I cough a lot. It doesn't last too long, but it happens often enough to keep my stomach in a permanent state of mild nausea. Sounds lovely, doesn't it?

Anyway, the cats are all fine. Here's Hilbert camping out on the fence.

James Pethokoukis rounds up some evidence today that, contrary to their reputations, modern tech companies create just as many jobs as the big industrial giants of yore. The problem is that he's comparing today's companies with companies from a century ago, when the labor force was far smaller. You can't do that. You have to look at jobs as a percent of the entire labor force. When you do that, here's what his sample set of companies looks like 20 years after their founding:

Modern tech companies are all at the bottom. The only exception is Amazon, and it's arguable just how much Amazon is really a tech company anyway. Putting a web interface on retail doesn't really count, but then again, providing cloud services does. So they're about half and half, which probably explains why they're in the middle of the chart.

For better or worse, modern tech companies just aren't huge jobs producers—and as machine intelligence progresses, they're likely to become even smaller players in the employment market.

The NFL Sucks So Hard

I don't suppose anyone cares, but I just want to say for the record that I agree entirely with Bill Plaschke today:

Every relationship is built on honesty, so the San Diego Chargers should hear this as their moving vans are chugging up the 5 Freeway on their noble mission of greed.

We. Don’t. Want. You.

The NFL sucks so hard. They stayed out of Los Angeles for two decades desperately trying to prove that, by God, no city would get an NFL team unless they ponied up taxpayer dollars for a stadium. Now we're about to have two teams, and for the exact same reason: to show San Diego that, by God, an NFL team won't stay in a city unless they pony up taxpayer dollars for a better stadium. And not just any dollars. Enough dollars to satisfy the lords of football.

Did I mention just how hard the NFL sucks?

Well, this is interesting:

I doubt that this will find anything illegal about Comey's actions. However, at the very least it should provide us with a detailed rundown of just how Comey decided to release his letter and what advice he ignored when he did it.

New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel spent all of 2015 in Iowa. He recently returned to the small town of Monticello to see how folks felt now that Donald Trump had been elected:

The Iowans I interviewed largely went about their lives outside the political hothouse social media....Many were hazy on specific policy details....These voters feared an outbreak of European-style terrorist attacks by Muslims in the United States, maybe in their own communities. And overwhelmingly, Trump supporters did not want their hard-earned money redistributed to people they regarded as undeserving.

There you go. Muslim terrorists and lazy black welfare recipients from the big city. Jobs matter too, but it's not clear if that was really a big motivator compared to terrorists and welfare bums.

It's worth adding that there's nothing new about this, and Trump doesn't seem to have appealed to this sentiment any more than previous Republicans. There's plainly a racial component to voting for Republicans vs. Democrats, but it was no bigger in 2016 than in other years.

Tom Philpott passes along a bit of news about Donald Trump that flew under the radar yesterday:

Amid the furor surrounding allegations of covert ties with Russian intelligence figures as well as his first press conference since winning the election, President-elect Donald Trump found time in his hectic Wednesday schedule to meet with two towering figures in the agriculture world, reports Fox Business Daily....The meeting involved German chemical giant Bayer's $66 billion buyout of US seed/agrichemical giant Monsanto—a deal that will have to pass antitrust muster with Trump's Department of Justice.

....Fox reports that Bayer CEO Werner Baumann and his Monsanto counterpart Hugh Grant met with the incoming president at Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan to promote the merger. In an email to the news organization, a Monsanto spokesperson confirmed that the two execs "had a productive meeting with President-Elect Trump and his team to share their views on the future of the agriculture industry and its need for innovation."

Is this...appropriate? I know that's sort of a silly question when it comes to Donald Trump, but is the president supposed to meet with people who have business pending with the Department of Justice? This is an antitrust review, not a criminal case, but it still seems wrong.

Am I off base? Does this kind of thing happen all the time?

UPDATE: And there's this, which I missed earlier:

Gee, I wonder what they talked about? Is Trump planning to become the single point of approval for all merger and antitrust matters?

The BBC's Paul Wood provides yet more detail on allegations that the Russians have possession of blackmail tapes on Donald Trump:

Claims about a Russian blackmail tape were made in one of a series of reports written by a former British intelligence agent. As a member of MI6, he had been posted to the UK's embassy in Moscow and now runs a consultancy giving advice on doing business in Russia. He spoke to a number of his old contacts in the FSB, the successor to the KGB, paying some of them for information.

....The former MI6 agent is not the only source for the claim about Russian kompromat on the president-elect. Back in August, a retired spy told me he had been informed of its existence by "the head of an East European intelligence agency".

Later, I used an intermediary to pass some questions to active duty CIA officers dealing with the case file — they would not speak to me directly. I got a message back that there was "more than one tape", "audio and video", on "more than one date", in "more than one place" — in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and also in St Petersburg — and that the material was "of a sexual nature". The claims of Russian kompromat on Mr Trump were "credible", the CIA believed.

....Last April, the CIA director was shown intelligence that worried him. It was — allegedly — a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.

It was passed to the US by an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States. The CIA cannot act domestically against American citizens so a joint counter-intelligence taskforce was created....A lawyer — outside the Department of Justice but familiar with the case — told me that three of Mr Trump's associates were the subject of the inquiry. "But it's clear this is about Trump," he said.

That's four sources, though obviously we don't know if they're all getting their information from the same place. Nor do we know if any of this is true. It might still all be baseless innuendo.

Still, four sources. This Paul Wood fellow is either a world-class crank or a helluva reporter. And we never would have known any of this if BuzzFeed hadn't gone ahead and published that dossier.

Has anyone written a definitive profile of Kellyanne Conway? I seem to vaguely recall seeing her on cable news over the years, and she always seemed pretty normal. Conservative, of course, but not crazy or especially mendacious.

Not anymore, though. She goes on TV and routinely lies, tosses out endless chum, makes groundless allegations, and just generally does everything she can to mislead the audience and attack all of her enemies, real and imagined. In other words, she's just like Donald Trump.

Ditto for Sean Spicer, Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks, Scottie Nell Hughes, Katrina Pierson, and a cast of Trumpian thousands. But I'd never seen any of those folks before they became Trumpistas, so maybe they were that way all along. Conway is the only one I've ever seen before.

Does Trump train people to "act like Trump"? Does it just happen naturally if you hang around the guy for a while? Will we soon have an entire administration full of mini-Trumps? It's a scary prospect. In the meantime, though, I'll settle for the straight dope on Kellyanne Conway. What's her deal?

Yahoo News provides some further information about the man behind the Trump-Russia dossier, reporting that he is a former MI-6 officer who:

had worked as a consultant for the FBI’s Eurasian organized crime section, helping to develop information about ties between suspected Russian gangsters and FIFA, said one of the sources, who is directly familiar with Steele’s work.

....U.S. officials said his allegations were not easily dismissed, in part because Steele was a known quantity who had produced reliable information about Russia in the past. "He’s a meticulous professional, and there are no questions about his integrity,” said one U.S. official... "The information he provided me [about Russia] was valuable and useful.”

And the BBC's Paul Wood claims that former MI-6 officer isn't the only source for these allegations anyway:

Most of the stuff in the dossier is nonetheless probably wrong. The question is, is any of it right?