After Michael Flynn resigned/was fired as National Security Advisor, everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the top prospect to replace him turned out to be Retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward. He's well respected by both Democrats and Republicans and would have brought some needed experience and sobriety to the White House.

Unfortunately, Harward turned down the job. It all hinged on whether he would be allowed to choose his own team. Here is CBS News:

Two sources close to the situation confirm Harward demanded his own team, and the White House resisted. Specifically, Mr. Trump told Deputy National Security Adviser K. T. McFarland that she could retain her post, even after the ouster of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Harward refused to keep McFarland as his deputy, and after a day of negotiations over this and other staffing matters, Harward declined to serve as Flynn’s replacement.

McFarland hasn't held a government position for over 30 years, but she has appeared regularly on Fox News as a standard-issue hardline pundit for the past decade. In Trump's eyes, this qualifies her to be the #2 person on the National Security Council. Apparently Harward didn't agree. Politico has more:

According to an individual familiar with Harward's thinking, [Harward] turned down the Trump offer because he did not receive sufficient assurances about staffing and autonomy. Specifically, the source said Harward wanted commitments that the National Security Council would be fully in charge of security matters, not Trump's political advisers. And he wanted to be able to select his own staff.

Trump's decision last month to place his top strategist and former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon on the National Security Council was roundly criticized as a departure from tradition, and previous administrations have tried to keep the NSC as divorced from politics as possible.

Basically, Harward is a serious guy who wanted the National Security Council to be staffed with national security experts, not Fox News hacks and political operators. That was too much for the Trump team, so Harward pulled out, reportedly calling the offer a "shit sandwich."

That's all bad enough, but it raises another question: now that this is all public knowledge, will anyone serious be willing to take this position? How could they?

Paul Ryan outlined the latest Republican replacement for Obamacare today. Here's the nickel summary from the New York Times:

The Republican plan includes tax credits to help people buy insurance and new incentives for consumers to establish savings accounts to pay medical expenses. The tax credits would increase with a person’s age, but — unlike the assistance provided under the Affordable Care Act — would not vary with the amount of a person’s income.

....But the outline did not say how the legislation would be paid for, essentially laying out the benefits without the more controversial costs. It also included no estimates of the number of people who would gain insurance through the plan, nor did it include comparisons to the Affordable Care Act, which covers about 20 million people.

The GOP outline is here, but you might as well save yourself the trouble of clicking the link. There are no real details there either. They don't say how big their tax credit is, but they hint that it will be laughably small, especially for older workers. They do say they're going to repeal all Obamacare taxes and get rid of the individual mandate. They promise to switch Medicaid to either a fixed allotment or a block grant; repeal the Obamacare expansion; and put the whole program "on a budget." The Medicaid allotment would grow by "an inflationary index"—but they don't say which one. The plan introduces support for "catastrophic" coverage, which would (maybe) provide plans that are technically cheap enough to be affordable with the tax credit, but which are essentially useless for providing normal health care.

And as long as we're on the subject of health care, the Trump administration issued some proposed new Obamacare regs yesterday. In a nutshell, they plan to shrink the new enrollment period from 90 day to 45 days and make a technical change that would reduce subsidies for a family by about $300 per year. However, this might not matter since they seem to be doing their best to create so much chaos that no insurer is going to stay in the market anyway. If you want more details, Sarah Kliff has 'em.

President Donald Trump went full Sarah Palin today at his press conference. It was glorious. I think you have to watch it to really get the full effect, but here are a few highlights.

First off, the word of the day is mess:

To be honest, I inherited a mess. It's a mess. At home and abroad, a mess…I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess…ISIS has spread like cancer—another mess I inherited…And you look at Schumer and the mess that he's got over there and they have nothing going.

Fact-check: Delusional. Trump inherited an economy in pretty good shape. Crime has steadily decreased over the past decade. ISIS is losing ground and close to defeat. Illegal immigration has been stable for many years. Test scores for schoolkids are up. Fewer than a dozen American soldiers have died in combat in the past year. Obamacare has cut the number of people without health insurance almost in half. The budget deficit is down to 3 percent of GDP. After years of stagnation, wages are finally starting to go up. Unemployment and inflation are both low.

I put it out before the American people, got 306 electoral college votes…270 which you need, that was laughable. We got 306 because people came out and voted like they've never seen before so that's the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.

Fact-check: Also delusionial. He got 304 electoral votes, and Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, and Obama all did better.

We've begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare…I know you can say, oh, Obamacare. I mean, they fill up our rallies with people that you wonder how they get there, but they are not the Republican people our representatives are representing.

Fact-check: Plausible! Trump and the Republicans in Congress probably do think they represent only Republicans.

The leaks are real. You're the one that wrote about them and reported them, I mean the leaks are real. You know what they said, you saw it and the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.

Fact-check: Huh?

If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake?

The reporting is fake. Look, look…You know what it is? Here's the thing. The public isn't—you know, they read newspapers, they see television, they watch. They don't know if it's true or false because they're not involved. I'm involved. I've been involved with this stuff all my life. But I'm involved. So I know when you're telling the truth or when you're not. I just see many, many untruthful things.

Fact-check: True. Trump almost certainly does see many, many untruthful things.

I mean, I watch CNN, it's so much anger and hatred and just the hatred. I don't watch it any more…Well, you look at your show that goes on at 10 o'clock in the evening. You just take a look at that show. That is a constant hit…Now, I will say this. I watch it. I see it. I'm amazed by it.

Fact-check: Schrödinger's cat. Trump both watches and doesn't watch CNN.

We had Hillary Clinton try and do a reset. We had Hillary Clinton give Russia 20 percent of the uranium in our country. You know what uranium is, right? This thing called nuclear weapons, like lots of things, are done with uranium, including some bad things.

Fact-check: Half true. No, Hillary Clinton didn't give Russia any uranium. (She was one of many who approved a deal for the Russian atomic energy agency to buy a Canadian company that controls 20 percent of the US uranium reserves. But none of it can exported outside the United States.) However, it is true that bad things can be done with uranium.

QUESTION: Let's talk about some serious issues that have come up in the last week that you have had to deal with as president of the United States. You mentioned the vessel—the spy vessel off the coast of the United States.

TRUMP: Not good.

QUESTION: There was a ballistic missile test that many interpret as a violation of an agreement between the two countries; and a Russian plane buzzed a U.S. destroyer.

TRUMP: Not good.

…QUESTION: So when you say they're not good, do you mean that they are...

TRUMP: Who did I say is not good?

QUESTION: No, I read off the three things that have recently happened. Each one of them you said they're not good.

TRUMP: No, it's not good, but they happened.

QUESTION: But do they damage the relationship? Do they undermine...

TRUMP: They all happened recently.

Fact-check: True. These are all things that happened recently.

JAKE TURX, A REPORTER FOR A SMALL ULTRA-ORTHODOX JEWISH PUBLICATION: Despite what some of my colleagues may have been reporting, I haven't seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic. We understand that you have Jewish grandchildren. You are their zaidy. However, what we are concerned about, and what we haven't really heard being addressed, is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it... There has been a report out that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks. There are people who are committing anti-Semitic acts or threatening to…

TRUMP: He said he was gonna ask a very simple, easy question. And it's not, its not, not—not a simple question, not a fair question. OK sit down, I understand the rest of your question.

So here's the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person…See, he lied about—he was gonna get up and ask a very straight, simple question, so you know, welcome to the world of the media. But let me just tell you something, that I hate the charge, I find it repulsive.

I hate even the question because people that know me and you heard the prime minister, you heard Ben Netanyahu yesterday, did you hear him, Bibi? He said, I've known Donald Trump for a long time and then he said, forget it. So you should take that instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.

Fact-check: Incoherent. Turx explicitly tried to assure Trump that nobody thought he was anti-Semitic, but Trump's skin is so thin that he immediately decided Turx was calling him a racist and an anti-Semite. I wonder why?

By the way, the entire point of this press conference seemed to be directed at one thing: accusing the press of being horrible and dishonest. This came up in nearly every Trump answer. This is a great strategy for shoring up his base, of course. As near as I can tell, conservatives all thought this dumpster fire of a press conference was a terrific performance.

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.