Donald Trump held a remarkable press conference today—about which more later—but first I have to thank him. Here's an exchange with NBC's Peter Alexander:

ALEXANDER: You said today that you had the biggest electoral margin since Ronald Reagan, 304, 306 electoral votes. But President Obama had 365....

TRUMP: Well, I'm talking about Republicans.

ALEXANDER: George H.W. Bush, 426 when he won as president. So why should Americans trust you?

TRUMP: Well no, I was given that information. I don't know, I was just given—we had a very, very big margin.

ALEXANDER: I guess my question is why Americans should trust you when you use information...

TRUMP: Well, I don't know, I was given that information. I was given—I actually, I've seen that information around.

This is great! I mean, I write for a magazine, and let's face it: fact checking is a pain. I know my fellow writers will back me up here. I suppose it's good for readers, who want accurate information, but it's a huge time sink for us content creators. Next time, my conversation will go like this:

FACT CHECKER: You say in your article that hippos are the largest mammals. Are you sure?

ME: I don't know, I was given that information. They're really big.

FACT CHECKER: And mice are the smallest?

ME: I've seen that information around.

This is going to make my job a lot easier. Thanks, Mr. President!

Pew offers up the following comparison today:

Well, at least Trump is #1 at something. In related news, I was looking at Pollster yesterday and found something odd. I've mentioned before that although Trump's disapproval rating has gone up since Inauguration Day, so has his approval rating. But it turns out that if you look only at live phone polls—generally considered the highest quality polls—his approval rating has actually plummeted by six points:

I know that there are differences between phone, IVR, and Internet polls, and IVR polls are generally considered pretty high quality these days. But the IVR/Internet polls show Trump's approval up four points, while the live phone polls show his approval down six points. That's a net ten point difference, which is huge.

It's early days, and maybe it's just a matter of small sample sizes or something. But I wonder what's really going on with Trump's approval rating?

Since President Trump is bragging yet again about the stock market, here's your periodic reminder of what it really looks like:

Thanks Obama!

Pew Research released some exciting news yesterday about religious affiliation: among most age groups, I am no longer part of the most hated religion in America. In fact, among millennials, there are four religious groups more disliked than atheists. Woot! Overall, Muslims are now two points ahead of atheists for the title of most hated, compared to only one point three years ago.1

Oldsters still dislike atheists even more than they fear Muslims, but it's a close call. Pretty soon, every age group in America will hate someone else more than they hate atheists. Thrilling, isn't it?

On a more serious note, Pew also reports a rather astonishing increase in warmth toward all religious groups among Americans. Apparently we hate other people's religions a little less than we did in 2014. Progress.

1Also, no one is trying to ban atheists from entering the country. The good news just keeps pouring in for us godless heathens.

For what it's worth, Shane Harris and Carol Lee of the Wall Street Journal have confirmed that story from a few days ago about spy agencies holding back information from President Trump:

U.S. intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter. The officials’ decision to keep information from Mr. Trump underscores the deep mistrust that has developed between the intelligence community and the president over his team’s contacts with the Russian government, as well as the enmity he has shown toward U.S. spy agencies.

....The officials emphasized that they know of no instance in which crucial information about security threats or potential plotting has been omitted. Still, the misgivings that have emerged among intelligence officials point to the fissures spreading between the White House and the U.S. spy agencies.

If this were happening to a Democratic president, I imagine I'd be pretty outraged. But this distrust of Trump seems to be pretty worldwide. It's hard to know for sure that the intelligence community doesn't have good reason for holding back a bit.

Anyway, it appears that Trump is taking revenge by appointing a billionaire crony of Steve Bannon to "review" the intelligence establishment. That should turn out well.

Judd Legum has a tale to tell:

Here's an AP story on the trademark award:

The government of China awarded U.S. President Donald Trump valuable rights to his own name this week, in the form of a 10-year trademark for construction services. The registration became official on Feb. 14 and was published in a trademark registration announcement on the website of China's Trademark Office on Wednesday.

Trump actually won this case on November 14, so the motivating factor may have been Trump's election win, not his reversal on the One China policy. On the other hand, the trademark only became effective because there were no objections in the 90 days after winning the case. If Trump had persisted in refusing to endorse One China, it's quite possible that an objection would have magically found its way into the record.

Who knows? As with everything Trump, the truth is murky.

Defense Secretary James Mattis is tired of European allies not carrying their weight in NATO:

In an ultimatum to America's allies, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told fellow NATO members Wednesday to increase military spending by year's end or risk seeing the U.S. curtail its defense support — a stark threat given Europe's deep unease already over U.S.-Russian relations.

Echoing President Donald Trump's demands for NATO countries to assume greater self-defense responsibility, Mattis said Washington will "moderate its commitment" to the alliance if countries fail to fall in line. He didn't offer details, but the pressure is sure to be felt, particularly by governments in Europe's eastern reaches that feel threatened by Russian expansionism.

This is one of the few Trump policies that I mostly agree with. Of course, so has every president for the past two decades, both Republicans and Democrats. It's pretty easy to see why. NATO countries are supposed to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense, but only five of them actually do:

I don't have a solution for this problem, which is of long standing, but I do think the flat 2 percent requirement is unfair. A country with a per capita GDP of $4,000 (Albania) should hardly be expected to pony up as much as a country with a per capita GDP of $56,000 (the United States). Basically, as countries become wealthier, the percentage of GDP they're expected to contribute to defense should go up. Here's what that looks like:

There are still plenty of slackers, but they're different slackers. Most of NATO's poor countries are spending more than we should expect of them, while most of the rich countries are not even close to pulling their weight. Luxembourg is a basket case.1 The Nordic countries are seriously underspending. Portugal and France are doing OK, but the core European countries of Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium are way under target.

I don't know what Mattis has in mind, but I assume he's suggesting that if Europe doesn't start spending more, we'll close some bases and reduce our overall footprint there. This is a tricky threat, though, since in most cases we want those bases as much or more than the host countries do. And domestic politics makes it all but impossible for most rich European countries to substantially increase defense spending anyway. Is there really any chance that Germany is going to double its defense budget anytime soon?

I'm curious to find out if this is just another in the dreary succession of US defense chiefs begging Europe to spend more, or if Mattis has real plans to make his threat stick. Stay tuned.

1I know: who cares, really? And anyway, what leverage do we have? If Russian tanks come storming through the Fulda Gap and manage to plow through Germany, it's not as if we're going to repel them everywhere else but let them into Luxembourg. Still, being a tax haven shouldn't be a free lunch. It makes you rich, but that also means you should be expected to contribute more to the common defense.

Ian Ostrander reminds us today that even if you can't filibuster, you can still filibuster:

It’s important to note that even though the 2013 Senate got rid of filibusters for most judicial nominees, the minority still has many ways to delay action. Under the new Senate rules a determined minority can still require 30 hours of debate even after a cloture vote, which closes the discussion. Using this procedure on every nomination would actually require more time than the Senate works in an average presidential term.

If Democratic senators use the full debate time on every nomination, the resulting logjam would enable only key nominations to pass — because every nominee would require cloture. That’s exactly the situation that President Barack Obama faced, after the Democratic leadership eliminated the filibuster. He could overcome obstruction on any individual nomination, but not on every nomination. The figure below shows the staggering increase in the use of cloture to overcome obstruction. This is the new normal for nominations in a post-nuclear Senate.

After Democrats eliminated the filibuster for judicial and executive nominees, Republicans began a campaign of epic delay on every nomination. This wasn't because they actually opposed all of Obama's nominees, it was because they wanted to use up floor time. There wasn't much they wanted to do that would survive Obama's veto pen anyway, so why not? Democrats are now doing the same thing, and since they're in the minority it's practically the only tool they still have available to influence legislation:

Every moment spent on confirming Cabinet nominees is a moment not spent on the Republican agenda. Every ounce of executive and legislative energy spent on a Cabinet nomination is effort taken from other priorities....Delay may be the Democrats’ best tool for bringing Republicans to the bargaining table.

This kind of delaying game gives Donald Trump a choice: accept that he won't be able to fill most of the lower-level position in his administration, or else make a deal with the Democrats. Eventually, something has to give.

From Politico, on Donald Trump's plan to increase defense spending:

Republicans are already drawing battle lines over whether the extra defense dollars should be added to the deficit or, as many in the party have long insisted, be matched with equal cuts elsewhere....“I think with any new spending, we ought to figure out ways of offsetting it or paying for it,” [Sen. Bob] Corker said. “I hope we’re not going to a place where all of the sudden, because we’re in office, we don’t think the deficit matters anymore.”

Gee, what could possibly have given anyone that idea?

Kurt Eichenwald writes today that US allies in Western Europe have been conducting intelligence operations against the US for months:

Sources said the interceptions include at least one contact between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and a Russian official based in the United States....The sources said the intercepted communications are not just limited to telephone calls: The foreign agency is also gathering electronic and human source information on Trump’s overseas business partners, at least some of whom the intelligence services now consider to be agents of their respective governments.

Moreover, a Baltic nation is gathering intelligence on officials in the Trump White House and executives with the president’s company, the Trump Organization, out of concern that an American policy shift toward Russia could endanger its sovereignty, according to a third person with direct ties to that nation’s government.

....These operations reflect a serious breakdown in the long-standing faith in the direction of American policy by some of the country’s most important allies. Worse, the United States is now in a situation that may be unprecedented—where European governments know more about what is going on in the executive branch than any elected American official....The information gathered by the Western European government has been widely shared among the NATO allies, although it is not clear how much has been provided to American intelligence officials.

Is this true? Who knows anymore? As with so many other stories these days, it's remarkable enough just that it's taken seriously.