Despite weeks of effort, Donald Trump was apparently unable to find a Hispanic to serve as Secretary of Agriculture. Was this because no Hispanics were willing to join his administration? Or was it because Trump just couldn't build any kind of personal rapport with any of the Hispanics who came to Trump Tower to visit with him? We'll never know.

Instead, our new Agriculture Secretary will be Sonny Perdue, the man who won election as governor of Georgia in 2003 by promising to let residents vote on a flag referendum that would allow them to return the Confederate battle cross to a central position in the state flag. In the end, the Democratic legislature refused to allow this, and instead compromised on a flag that ditched the rebel cross but included the Confederate Stars and Bars—something that most people don't really recognize, but which kinda sorta appeased the racist Southern heritage faction of the Peach State.

I'm sure this appealed to Trump, and Perdue does have some agricultural experience—that is, assuming you count the fact that he runs a "global trading company that facilitates U.S. commerce focusing on the export of U.S. goods and services...such as blueberries, grains, onions, peanuts, pecans, soybeans, and spinach." He's probably done pretty well for himself in this business, allowing him to join his brother, Sen. David Perdue, in the rich man's club.

Anyway, that's it. Until and unless someone pulls out or is rejected by the Senate, Trump has now named his nominees for every cabinet-level position. As you can see, he tangled with the swamp, and the swamp won.

Sherri Underwood, a Midwestern woman in her mid-50s, writes that she voted for Donald Trump but now regrets it:

Most of my decision came down to my poor experience with Obamacare. In the ’90s, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic illness that causes fatigue, memory loss, physical aches, and soreness....I eventually was unable to work at all. I lost employer-based health insurance when I left the workforce and had to pay my health care costs out of pocket.

When Obamacare first came into effect, I was excited to get what I thought would be financial help with my costly medicine and treatments. But [my husband’s salary] put me in an earning bracket too high to qualify for any financial assistance....I’m left with a premium of $893, so high that I can no longer afford the cost of my medicines and treatments on top of the monthly premiums.

....In the end, I voted for Trump because he promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, and that was the most important issue to my own life. Looking back, I realize what a mistake it was. I ignored the pundits who repeated over and over again that he would not follow through on his promises, thinking they were spewing hysterics for better ratings. Sitting on my couch, my mouth agape at the words coming out his mouth on the TV before me, I realized just how wrong I was.

This is so depressing. Underwood's general problem is that she's decided Trump is not a man who will carry out his promises, so now she doesn't believe he's going to improve Obamacare. Fine. But what Underwood never understood is that even if Trump did carry out his promises, she'd still be worse off. Although Underwood may not have qualified for a subsidy, she did benefit from the fact that Obamacare allows a maximum premium ratio of 3:1 between old people and young people. Trump and other Republicans think this ought to be 5:1. If it were, Underwood's premium would be over $1,000. Obamacare probably saved her something in the neighborhood of $2,000 per year.

Plus Obamacare allowed her to get insurance in the first place. Until it took effect, no one would cover her.

Lots of people have benefited considerably from Obamacare, but not everyone. Underwood found herself in the worst possible position: old enough to have a high premium but well-off enough that she didn't qualify for assistance. So she was gobsmacked when she discovered just how much health care costs in America. Most people have no real clue about this, but per-capita health care spending in the bloated US system is over $10,000 per year for someone 55 years old. That means insurance premiums are going to be $10,000+ per year too. There's just no getting around this.

If Republicans want to cover people like Underwood, they're going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. If they want to reduce deductibles, they're going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. If they want to increase subsidies for the middle class, they're going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. This is an iron law, and no amount of blather about state lines or tort reform or anything else changes it more than minutely. But Republicans want to spend less, not more. Even if Trump had been sincere, there was never any chance that Underwood would do better under his plan than under Obamacare.

It all comes down to money. Ignore the rest of the chaff. If you think national health care should be better, it means spending more money. Period.

McClatchy has the latest on the investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump team:

The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election....The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, the sources said.

....One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said....A key mission of the six-agency group has been to examine who financed the email hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

....The working group is scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump’s campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections, the sources said.

....The BBC reported that the FBI had obtained a warrant on Oct. 15 from the highly secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing investigators access to bank records and other documents about potential payments and money transfers related to Russia. One of McClatchy’s sources confirmed the report.

That's an awful lot of agencies investigating an awful lot of allegations against an awful lot of people. And as the article says, you can't get a warrant unless you can demonstrate at least some kind of plausible probable cause. That means these folks are working off a lot more than just the famous dossier produced by the ex-MI6 spy.

At this point, I flatly don't know what I believe anymore. This is all crazy stuff, but a whole bunch of investigators don't seem to be treating it as crazy. Either way, though, the guy at the center of all this is going to become president of the United States in two days.

There's just not much to say about this. We now have the official number for 2016, and it was yet another record-setting year for global warming. Here's the latest set of Arctic temperatures:

The green line is where we'd normally be. The red line is where we are: about 15°C higher than usual. Total sea ice extent is now about 3 million square kilometers less than normal.

However, 2017 will probably be a little cooler than 2016 thanks to the end of our latest El Niño, so I'm sure the climate deniers will be back in the saddle a year from now. In the meantime, we continue to fry.

Well, we've now officially gone from this:

To this:

If Pruitt had been asked about the effects of zirconium dioxide on Alzheimer's disease or something, then sure. Nobody knows everything, after all. But lead paint has been in the news for something like 50 years now and Flint's water pipes have been in big, bold headlines for the past two. You'd have to work pretty hard not to be aware of what lead does.

Still, if you're bound and determined never to regulate anything, no matter how dangerous, then I suppose it pays to aggressively shut your eyes to environmental dangers of all kinds. Welcome to the New Model EPA, folks.

Well, this is it, boys and girls. We're doomed:

The Consumer Price Index has breached 2 percent for one month, which means hyperinflation is right around the corner. The Fed must act!

Never mind that the Fed doesn't care about the CPI and pays attention to the PCE inflation index, which is well below 2 percent. Or that they really pay attention to the core PCE, which is also well below 2 percent. Inflation is always and everywhere ready to devour us.

Sarcasm aside, it is a little odd that the CPI and PCE went in opposite directions in November. I'll be curious to see if that continues when we get the December PCE numbers.

I mentioned in passing yesterday that Donald Trump's tweets aren't meant for the press or for Congress or for people like you and me. They're meant for his fans. Today brings a pretty good example of this:

This is obviously laughable. Even if you take Trump at face value, he's been responsible for no more than a tiny handful of jobs, and he hasn't negotiated a lower price on anything yet, let alone "massive" cost reductions on military purchases. So why bother tweeting something that makes him look ridiculous?

Because he needs his supporters to continue thinking he's a miracle worker. To them, this tweet is a simple progress report. Even if anyone bothers fact checking it, they'll never see it. All they see is Trump keeping them apprised of the tremendous progress he's making in draining the swamp and bending Washington to his will.

But surely he can't keep this up for multiple years, can he? At some point, after all, even people who don't pay much attention to the news will eventually realize there's a disconnect between reality and Trump's big talk. Then they'll start to see Trump for the empty hustler he is. Right?

This is the $64,000 question. I wish I knew the answer. For now, I'll just say that I'm not sure. A lot of it depends on events, of course, and a lot of it depends on how successful Trump is at blaming other people for everything that goes wrong. Depending on circumstances, it's possible that the true believers will stay on board forever, even if he shoots someone on Fifth Avenue.

President Obama announced today that he is commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who has spent nearly seven years in prison for leaking thousands of classified documents when she was stationed in Iraq as an intelligence analyst in 2010. She will be freed in May. James Joyner is not pleased:

This is just not right. Obama has commuted hundreds of sentences, as have previous presidents. By definition, these are acts of mercy that explicitly reduce a sentence imposed by the justice system. His commutation of Manning's sentence is no more a big FU to the military justice system than his other commutations are big FUs to the civilian justice system.

What's more, there are several reasons to believe that Manning deserves this show of mercy. She released only low-level documents, not top secret ones. She was clearly in a good deal of mental distress when she did it. And she pleaded guilty to most of the charges and apologized publicly for her actions.

The biggest disconnect between those who approve of her commutation and those who don't is undoubtedly a simple difference of opinion about how serious her crimes were. But there's another disconnect that's less obvious because so many of us barely even notice it anymore: the United States is a wild outlier when it comes to the length of prison sentences. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. A lot of people will shrug when they read that, but it's insane by any kind of global standard. We hand out 15 and 20-year sentences like candy in America, while the rest of the world considers 5-10 years a severe sentence for anyone short of a serial killer.

Chelsea Manning will end up spending seven years in prison. By any non-crazy standard, that's a very long sentence considering the circumstances of Manning's crime. I don't believe she was wrongly convicted—no government can possibly allow a soldier to expose a massive trove of state secrets without punishment—but I do believe that seven years is enough. Let it rest.

A new poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal is getting some attention today for showing a big jump in support for Obamacare now that Republicans are talking about getting rid of it. But this poll shows less than it seems. The last time it was taken was March 2015, so all it tells us is that one poll shows an increase in approval sometime over the past two years. For comparison, here's the NBC/WSJ poll overlaid on the monthly Kaiser tracking poll:

The Kaiser poll shows roughly a two-point increase over the past two years, all of it coming in the fall of 2016. Will it show another increase in January? Maybe, but we'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, the NBC/WSJ poll tells us very little. It doesn't show any kind of increase in the past month, just an increase over the past two years. And even that might be an artifact of sampling error in its March 2015 poll. I'm just as eager to see an increase in public approval of Obamacare as anybody, but the NBC/WSJ poll literally tells us nothing about the past month or two. In another few weeks both Gallup and Kaiser should give us some real data to chew on.

Yesterday Donald Trump said he thought the dollar was "too strong." Today the Wall Street Journal goes into overdrive to describe the effect of the great man's words:

Trump Comments Send Dollar Reeling

Reeling! Is that true? Well, the Journal's own dollar index fell about 1 percent, and sure, that's a fair amount for a single day. But let's take a look at the Journal's index for the entire period since Trump's election:

Hmmm. The dollar steadily gained strength following Trump's election based on expectations of his economic and trade policy. Then it started sliding around the start of the new year. Its latest 1 percent drop is hardly significant: it's dropped that much in a single day before, and it's still up significantly since Trump's election. And in case you're curious, here's a longer-term view:

So did Trump's words have a galvanizing effect on the world's currency traders? It's possible, but we might want to wait a few days before we say so. There are other things going on in the world too, after all.