Behold our White House press office at work:

Sunday: White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders tells reporters that President Trump “played a couple of holes” today.

Monday: Pro golfer Rory McIlroy says he played 18 holes with Trump. “He probably shot around 80. He’s a decent player for a guy in his 70’s!”

Monday evening: The White House releases a new statement: "He intended to play a few holes and decided to play longer."

Obviously this doesn't matter in any cosmic sense. Who cares how much golf Trump plays? But it's yet another indication that the White House press operation will blithely lie about anything. Is there really any point to having a press office these days?

I can still remember a decade ago, when Col. H.R. McMaster, the hero of Tal Afar and genius of counterinsurgency, had been passed over for the second time for promotion to brigadier general. Did we ever find out who had it in for him? Probably not. In any case, he eventually got his star, and then another, and then another, and now he's got an office in the White House:

President Trump appointed Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster as his new national security adviser on Monday, picking a widely respected military strategist known for challenging conventional thinking and helping to turn around the Iraq war in its darkest days.

....General McMaster had the aura of disruption that Mr. Trump has valued in several cabinet secretaries, said a senior administration official who insisted on anonymity to describe internal deliberations. Another candidate, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, the superintendent of West Point, impressed Mr. Trump as being “from central casting,” the official said. But the president wanted him to stay at West Point, which he reveres.

I see that Trump is using his usual keen management insights to choose the folks responsible for running our country. Luckily, he somehow decided that the guy from central casting ought to stay at West Point, and accidentally chose McMaster instead. This is probably a pretty good selection, so I guess we should all be grateful regardless of how we got there.

I wonder what McMaster thinks of K.T. McFarland? That seems to be a key prerequisite for NSA these days. I sure hope they get along, since I assume McFarland will have no problem using her personal connection with Trump to complain about McMaster behind his back if she doesn't like what he's doing.

President Trump just can't give up on Sweden:

I suppose that "beautifully" is subjective, so I won't comment on that. But Trump is specifically talking about crime here, and a bit of googling tells me that the real target of the fear-o-sphere isn't so much Sweden in general, but the city of Malmö, just across the sound from Copenhagen. About a third of Malmö's population was born abroad, the highest rate in Sweden, and to listen to the right-wing media it's basically become the Beirut of the North ever since immigrants started pouring in. "How Muslim Migration Made Malmo, Sweden A Crime Capital," blares the Daily Wire. "Malmo, Sweden is the Most Dangerous City in Western Europe," says Infowars, adding that it's suffering from "soaring crime, murder." Over in Britain, the Express puts things plainly: "SWEDEN CRUMBLING: Demands for military intervention as thugs turn Malmo into 'no-go zone.'"

(Sorry, no links. Google 'em yourself if you really want to read this stuff.)

Luckily for the rest of us, Sweden has quite an excellent crime reporting website, helpfully offered in both Swedish and English. Here are the crime rates in recent years for Sweden's three biggest cities:

Sadly, the laggard Swedes don't have 2016 numbers for Malmö even though we're a full 50 days into 2017, so this will have to do. As you can see, Malmö's crime rate is higher than Sweden's, which is the usual case for big cities, but generally lower than Stockholm's. It's been trending slightly downward over the past decade. Here's property crime:

Malmö doesn't look much like a hellhole, does it? Violent crime looks fairly normal for a city of its size, and it's trending down. Property crime looks better than you might expect, and it's trending distinctly down. For a longer-term look at things, here are the total number of murders in Sweden over the past 50 years:

I suppose you all recognize this shape from my hundreds of posts about lead and crime, right? In any case, it's been trending steadily downward since 1990 while the number of immigrants has been steadily rising. Drilling down, the murder rate between 1991-2014 in Skåne county, which includes Malmö, has stayed flat. However, the murder rate in Malmö itself has nearly doubled in the past two years, increasing from about seven murders in 2014 to twelve in 2016.

Why? Gang wars. This is also the reason Malmö has been the victim of a surprising number of hand grenade attacks lately. Apparently they're leftovers from the Balkan wars that are smuggled into Sweden and used by rival drug gangs in their turf wars. There's no question that gang wars fought with hand grenades and handguns are the kind of thing that could put people on edge, but these gangs have been around for a long time and it's unclear what's caused the recent surge in turf wars. It might be related to the influx of immigrants, but since immigrants have been moving to Malmö for years, while the gang wars have increased in just the last two, that seems a bit of a stretch.

All this said, Malmö's overall crime rate, both violent and property, has been pretty flat for the past decade, and the murder rate has been flat for the past three decades. All this has happened while the immigrant population in Malmö has increased more than tenfold.

So that leaves us with the recent gang wars, which have caused an uptick in murders over just the past couple of years. That's it. If you cherry pick a single city with a sudden upsurge in gang warfare, and then assume it's all the fault of immigrants, then Sweden becomes the poster child for immigrants and crime. But that's a pretty thin case.

Bill Neely of NBC News reports on Vladimir Putin's efforts to understand the psyche of America's reality-show president:

A dossier on Donald Trump's psychological makeup is being prepared for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among its preliminary conclusions is that the new American leader is a risk-taker who can be naïve, according to a senior Kremlin adviser.

....Former Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Fedorov told NBC News..."Very serious preparatory work is going on in the Kremlin, including a paper — seven pages — describing a psychological portrait of Trump, especially based on this last two to three months, and the last weeks."

....Putin's government is growing increasingly concerned about Trump's battles in Washington, according to Fedorov and former lawmaker Sergei Markov, who remains well-connected at the Kremlin. Fedorov added that Trump's "constant battle with the mass media" was "worrying us." The U.S. president "is dancing on thin ice," he said. "It's a risky game."

A former prime minister under Putin said the Kremlin is taking no pleasure at Trump's struggles. "Absolutely not — not laughing," Mikhail Kasyanov said. "The situation is very serious and the whole of [Putin's] team, they are nervous." Many in the Kremlin believe hardliners in America — in Congress and the military — want to sabotage the president and his plans for better ties with Russia.

From Putin's point of view, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that Trump can't control himself. Putin could literally publish his dossier on his Facebook page and it wouldn't matter. Just as he did in the debates, when Hillary Clinton baited him in the most obvious ways, Trump will respond to provocations the way he always responds.

That's also the bad news, of course: Trump can't control himself. He lives in a delusionary world where everything is going great and the White House is a finely tuned machine. This divorce from reality is likely to become ever more cavernous as time goes on, and there's no telling how long it will be until this produces a disaster of some kind. Eventually it's going to become clear that trying to run the US government the same way he ran his business—Trump acting as the showman/marketing genius, while professional managers keep the gears turning—isn't producing any results here in consensus reality. And then the whole delusionary edifice will come tumbling down.

But when? Next week? Next year? Whenever the economy turns down? There's no telling. Putin better keep that dossier constantly updated.

Reality is setting in:

For seven years, few issues have animated conservative voters as much as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But with President Barack Obama out of office, the debate over “Obamacare” is becoming less about “Obama” and more about “care” — greatly complicating the issue for Republican lawmakers.

....As liberals overwhelm congressional town hall-style meetings and deluge the Capitol phone system with pleas to protect the health law, there is no similar clamor for dismantling it, Mr. Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. From deeply conservative districts in the South and the West to the more moderate parts of the Northeast, Republicans in Congress say there is significantly less intensity among opponents of the law than when Mr. Obama was in office.

Intensity is the key word here, since actual opinions about Obamacare don't seem to have changed more than a eyelash over the past seven years:

But the intensity of opinion has changed. With Obama out of office, the Republican base doesn't care as much. Hating Obamacare was mostly just a way of hating Obama. Likewise, the Democratic base cares more. They spent the past seven years griping about how weak Obamacare was—no public option, too friendly to insurance companies, subsidies too low, blah blah blah—under the apparent assumption that it didn't matter that practically no one was passionately defending the law. With Trump in office, Democrats have finally figured out that it matters, and congressional phones are now ringing off the hook.

So reality has set in for everyone. The Republican rank-and-file has finally figured out they never really cared all that much about taxing the rich an extra three points to provide health care for everyone. The Democratic rank-and-file has finally figured out that Obamacare is a pretty good program and it's worth fighting for.

But did we really have to elect Donald Trump to figure this out?

Cleaning Up After Trump

From the Wall Street Journal:

Jim Mattis, on his first trip to Iraq as defense secretary, said he plans to assess the fight against Islamic State in the country and that the U.S. isn’t there to take its oil. “I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America, have paid for our gas and oil all along and I’m sure that we will continue to do so in the future,” he told reporters in Abu Dhabi the day before leaving for Iraq. “We are not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil.”

So far, Mattis and VP Mike Pence have been fanning out across the world to assure our allies that President Trump thinks NATO is great; that America's support for Europe is "unwavering"; that Trump will be tough on Russia; and that we're not going to take Iraq's oil. In other words, basically the opposite of everything Trump himself has said over the past year.

This is becoming the signature of the Trump administration. At home, Trump says something stupid, and Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway gamely go out to clean up the mess and claim that Trump didn't really mean what he said. Abroad, Mattis and Pence and Rex Tillerson play the same role. They're like the guys who follow the elephants at a parade.

I'll bet they didn't think this was how they'd be spending their time as some of the most powerful people in the world.

Via the Washington Post:

“If he hadn’t gotten into office, 70,000 miners would have been put out of work,” Patricia Nana, a 42-year-old naturalized citizen from Cameroon. “I saw the ceremony where he signed that bill, giving them their jobs back, and he had miners with their hard hats and everything — you could see how happy they were.”

And those immigration raids last weeks ended up deporting 1.3 million undocumented workers. And Intel's new factory will give good, high-paying jobs to 250,000 hardworking Americans. And Trump's Muslim ban prevented 400 acts of terror on American soil.

Sigh. Among his supporters, Trump's style of governance by TV spectacle is working out well.

The president's friends have a proposal for him:

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.

Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

....[Mr. Cohen] said Mr. Sater had given him the written proposal in a sealed envelope. When Mr. Cohen met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office in early February, he said, he left the proposal in Mr. Flynn’s office. Mr. Cohen said he was waiting for a response when Mr. Flynn was forced from his post. Now Mr. Cohen, Mr. Sater and Mr. Artemenko are hoping a new national security adviser will take up their cause. On Friday the president wrote on Twitter that he had four new candidates for the job.

The "Ukranian lawmaker" is a pro-Putin opponent of the current regime in Ukraine. Sater is, um, a guy with an interesting background: "mafia linked," spent some time in prison, worked as an FBI informant, and spent several years as a close business associate of Donald J. Trump. Oh, and Sater was born in Russia and continues to have lots of contacts there.

And Cohen? Well, he's the guy who could actually get inside the White House and deliver the letter. You remember Michael Cohen, don't you?

Every time we turn around, there's something new linking Trump to Russia. Just a few days ago, FBI Director James Comey briefed the Senate Intelligence committee about the ongoing investigation of Team Trump and its ties to Russia, and all the chatter afterward was about how the senators seemed kind of shaken by what they heard.

Who knows? Maybe it all turns out to be nothing. But there sure is a lot of smoke out there. It's hard to believe there isn't a fire too.

Oh FFS:

The Trump administration is considering changing the way it calculates U.S. trade deficits, a shift that would make the country’s trade gap appear larger than it had in past years, according to people involved in the discussions.

The leading idea under consideration would exclude from U.S. exports any goods first imported into the country, such as cars, and then transferred to a third country like Canada or Mexico unchanged, these people told The Wall Street Journal.

Economists say that approach would inflate trade deficit numbers because it would typically count goods as imports when they come into the country but not count the same goods when they go back out, known as re-exports.

While we're at it, let's change our new jobs report to show all the people who have gained a job but not the ones who have lost a job. That should make the economy look great, just like Trump wants it.

Rex Tillerson's choice of Elliott Abrams to be his deputy at the State Department was vetoed by the White House. Abrams had once said some bad things about Donald Trump, so he was out. The New York Times reports on what this means:

Mr. Trump remains fixated on the campaign as he applies a loyalty test to some prospective officials....Six of the 15 statutory cabinet secretaries are still awaiting Senate confirmation as Democrats nearly uniformly oppose almost all of the president’s choices.

....It is not just Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson who has no deputy secretary, much less Trump-appointed under secretaries or assistant secretaries. Neither do the heads of the Treasury Department, the Education Department or any of the other cabinet departments. Only three of 15 nominees have been named for deputy secretary positions. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has a deputy only because he kept the one left over from President Barack Obama’s administration.

Yes, Democrats are slow-walking Trump's cabinet choices. You can decide for yourself if this is justified. But it's the deputies who often really run things, and Trump has only managed to name three out of 15 candidates. After he interviewed all those cabinet nominees, I guess he got bored.

In other words, it's not Democrats who are holding up the rest of government. The problem is that Trump has no idea what he's doing, and his staff is too busy with Trump's thin skin and chaotic management style to find qualified deputies that are acceptable to him. After the debacle with his National Security Advisor, I imagine this has gotten even harder. You could almost feel qualified conservatives backing away from Trumpland as that shitshow played out.

Trump has always had a pretty small set of people acceptable to him, and now a shrinking number of experienced players are finding Trump acceptable to them. This doesn't bode well for basic management of government business, let alone the "change for the ages" that he promised last night.