The New York Times reports today on the latest about Paul Manafort, favored lobbyist of sleazy dictators worldwide and currently Donald Trump's campaign chairman:

Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Donald Trump's Campaign Chief

Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych's pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine's newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau.

…The papers, known in Ukraine as the "black ledger," are a chicken-scratch of Cyrillic covering about 400 pages taken from books once kept in a third-floor room in the former Party of Regions headquarters on Lipskaya Street in Kiev. The room held two safes stuffed with $100 bills.

That sounds pretty bad. Still, I suppose it could be worse. For example, Manafort could—eh? What's that, Adam Weinstein?

Well, so much for the latest pivot to normalcy for the Trump campaign. It was already in pretty tattered shape after his Sunday Twitter rant about how unfairly the media mistreats him. Unsurprisingly, a lot of Republicans are finally concluding that a Trump pivot away from uncontrolled ranting and raving will never happen. Politico reports that "party leaders have started talking about cutting off support to Trump in October and redirecting cash to save endangered congressional majorities." I can't say that I blame them. I only wonder why they're planning to wait until October.

Here Is My Idea to Make Fast Food Great Again

Did I ever mention that I finally finished my quest to eat at all of our great nation's top 50 fast food joints? Well, I did, except for eight places that don't have any outlets in Southern California. However, every one of them seems to have set up shop in Phoenix, so someday maybe I'll have to spend a week there to truly cross off my entire list.

This whole exercise probably sounded like a dumb idea to most of you, and I guess it was. I can't say that any of the new places I tried really entranced me—not even internet fave Chipotle. However, it did provide me with the inspiration for a whole new chain of restaurants. Here's a mockup of the menu board for my idea:

You see, it turns out that a burger is a burger. I know many of you will howl in disagreement, but you're wrong. The difference between the best burger I tasted and the worst burger was barely worth worrying about. However, the fries were all over the map. Some were horrible. Some were OK. A few were fairly good. But none of them was truly great.

So what we need is a place that specializes in fries and really does them right. For the health conscious among you, order the shoestrings cooked in canola oil. For the rest of us, who understand that health conscious people shouldn't eat at fast food burger joints in the first place, we can order something better, cooked in beef tallow and topped with whatever strikes your fancy.

There will still be burgers and other stuff, of course. My restaurant just won't make a big deal out of them. It's a burger. Or a hot dog. Or a sandwich. Or whatever. It'll be fine.

Anyway, I offer this idea free of charge to anyone who wants to become a millionaire. My only condition is that the first outlet open in Irvine, California. Everything else is up to you. Any takers?

Yesterday I read this article in the Washington Post:

For millennial voters, the Clinton vs. Trump choice ‘feels like a joke’

In interviews this past week with more than 70 young voters in nine states from diverse backgrounds, lifestyles and careers, it is clear their mood is decidedly different from previous elections. Despite their varied lives, most of those interviewed shared a disgust with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump so intense that it is pushing many beyond disillusionment and toward apathy.

....Though a few people voiced admiration for Clinton, most talked about both her and Trump in searing, caustic words: Super villain. Evil. Chameleon. Racist. Criminal. Egomaniac. Narcissist. Sociopath. Liar. Lying cutthroat. Panderer. Word salad. Willy-nilly. Douche. Joker. Troll. Oompa Loompa. Sad. Absurd. Horrifying. Dishonest. Disgusting. Dangerous. Disaster.

Etc.

My immediate first thought when I read this was: Sure, but is this attitude really any different than in years past? I mean, if you go out and ask people to bitch about politics—which is what these reporters are doing even if they don't think they are—then they're going to bitch about politics. I probably would too.

So then: is this just the usual griping? Or is it worse than usual? I was too lazy to look for the polling data, but Eric Boehlert came to my rescue today:

This is just for Florida, and who knows? Maybe Floridians are unusually cheery folks. I doubt it, though. And although Boehlert doesn't mention this, that 12 percent of millennials who feel less motivated to vote this year is a smaller number than it is for older groups. Everything is close enough, in fact, that you can basically say there's no difference between millennials and other age groups when it comes to enthusiasm for voting.

We get this every four years. Reporters fan out into "real America" and ask people about politics. And pretty much without exception, every four years people are frustrated, angry, apathetic, and convinced that politicians never do anything for them. Every. Four. Years.

So knock it off, folks. Seriously. I know that reporters like to report, but this kind of stuff is flatly useless unless you can back up your anecdotes with something a little more concrete. At the very least, compare it to 2012. Or 2008. Or 2004. Or better yet, all of those years. If there's no real difference, then this is your story: "Voters, as usual, claim to be disgusted with politics." You can put it right up there next to "Worthwhile Canadian initiative."

Michael Stein writes about the expectation of kindness when you visit the doctor:

It’s reasonable to expect a doctor to be kind at every visit....Today, medical schools teach and evaluate kindness at patients’ bedsides and through role-playing....Yet doctors and patients alike have lamented that fully booked appointment schedules, the laptop’s intrusion during history-taking, billing pressures and edicts from insurance companies are squeezing kindness out of the exam room.

Personally, I don't care. Sure, I'd prefer that my doctor not be an asshole, but most of them pass that test. My hobby horse is different: I want them to tell the simple truth. Period.

I always feel like telling them this: "You know how you talk when you're consulting with another doctor? Neither kind nor unkind. Just a simple, unemotional dialogue that's concerned solely with the facts of the case. That's what I want."

And a pony. As near as I can tell, I have about as good a chance of getting either one.

POSTSCRIPT: Not that I really blame them. Every patient wants something a little different in the bedside manner department. How are doctors supposed to know? And even if they do, can they really be expected to turn different personalities off and on for each appointment?

David Atkins is unhappy about a Politico story suggesting that "top Senate Democrats" are pushing Hillary Clinton to stick with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland if she wins in November, rather than replacing him with someone more liberal:

It seems increasingly likely that Clinton’s hands will be tied by the Obama Administration’s decision to nominate a centrist in Merrick Garland in the hopes of compromise with the current GOP. Democratic Senators are already pushing for Clinton not to displace Garland with a more liberal choice in the interest of “preserving political capital.”

....“Top Senate Democrats” never seem to learn their lesson about political capital and negotiating with Republicans in Congress. There is no amount of compromising or bending over backwards that will please Senate Republicans or even make them more willing to negotiate with Democrats over other key items. One of the more glaring falsehoods of the Democratic primary campaign was that Clinton would be able to make more effective deals and compromises with the opposition, enabling Clinton to get things done that Sanders could not.

The reality is that Congressional Republicans won’t compromise with Clinton any more than they would have with Sanders. And they won’t be more inclined to deal in good faith with her if she nominates Garland than if she were to pull his nomination and select someone else.

With a caveat or two, I agree with this. And yet, I can't help think that something more is going on with Garland. Think about it. For starters, why did Obama nominate Garland? Not in hopes of compromise with Republicans, I think. He's not an idiot. Rather, he did it as a campaign ploy: a way of making Republicans look so extreme that they weren't even willing to confirm a moderate jurist that most of them had praised earlier in his career.

But now think about this from the other side. Why would anyone have agreed to be Obama's accomplice in this? It was obvious from the start that Republicans were going to block confirmation no matter who it was. Why go through all the trouble and paperwork and so forth for nothing more than being able to help the president make his opponents look bad?

My guess is that Garland received a promise—probably implied rather than explicit—that Democrats would stick with him if they won in November. Obama would work to get him confirmed during the lame duck session, and would recommend to Hillary Clinton that she renominate him in 2017 if necessary.

Roughly speaking, Garland is being a team player in hopes that the team will stick with him even if someone better comes along. The question, then, isn't whether Clinton should try to appease Republicans. It's whether she ought to reward loyalty in a guy who agreed to play a difficult and thankless role.

So should she? And if I'm right, how should Republicans play this game?

Hmmm:

Catholics dislike Trump more than Romney, perhaps because Pope Francis doesn't care for Trump. Or because Trump is a dick. Whatever. And among white evangelicals who attend church regularly, they're just going to vote for the Republican, full stop.

But among white evangelicals who blow off church, Trump is much more popular than Romney was. Why? I suppose they sense quite accurately that Romney really was religious. Trump, on the other hand, says he's religious but very clearly isn't. This appeals to them. They're apparently the kind of folks who want to call themselves Christians, but don't care much for holier-than-thous who make them feel guilty—even just by their existence—for not acting Christian. That's smart. Trump fits the bill perfectly.

Quick! What Is 17 Times 6?

Over at the mothership, Matt Miller reports that the nation's scientists have some questions for Donald Trump and the rest of the presidential field. They want to know about climate change, biodiversity, science education, nuclear power, vaccines, and so forth, but I think they're being a little too ambitious. Here is Trump on the Howard Stern show a few years ago:

STERN: What's 17 times 6?
[Trump kids look like deer in headlights.]
TRUMP: It's eleven twelve, 112.
STERN: Wrong!
ARTIE LANGE: It's 102.
TRUMP: 112.
STERN: It is 112?
TRUMP: 112.

Maybe we should ask Trump to tell us what is 17 plus 6. Then we can move on to the harder stuff.

Of course, there's a real lesson here: Trump knows it's better to have an answer, any answer, than to be caught out. Besides, he was just being sarcastic. Why do you people take everything he says so seriously, anyway?

Friday Cat Blogging - 12 August 2016

As everyone knows, the best cat toy is also the cheapest: a three-foot piece of string. But everyone also knows that you can make anything better by putting it on a stick. Hot dogs. Grilled peppers. Ice cream bars. Three-foot pieces of string.

With that in mind, yesterday we drove by the animal shelter and picked up a few new toys for the cats. One of them, of course, was the ever-popular feather-on-a-string-on-a-stick. So behold, Hilbert and Hopper at play. Note the color commentary from Marian at the beginning and Hilbert's graceful belly flop on top of Hopper at the end.

There's been a lot of talk lately about the fact that Donald Trump has so far spent $0 on TV advertising. Here is Jeet Heer:

Hillary Clinton has entered the field with $13 million in Olympics ad spending, but her competitor is nowhere to be seen. Astonishingly, Donald Trump’s campaign is spending zero dollars on Olympics advertising. And it’s not just in Olympics ads that Clinton is winning by default. To date, the Trump campaign has been unwilling to spend one thin penny on television advertising.

....In recent weeks, he’s upped his fundraising game, bringing in more than $91 million. So Trump has the money, he’s just not choosing to spend it. This is further evidence that Trump’s not running a real campaign, but something closer to a scampaign.

Maybe. But does it occur to anyone that this might be a danger sign for Hillary? She's about 6-7 points ahead of Trump at the moment, which sounds great until you think about the fact that she's spent $90 million on ads to Trump's zero. Perhaps the Trump campaign is gambling that ads this far ahead of Election Day don't have much effect, so he might as well wait until September and then unleash a gigantic blitz. They might even be right. In any case, once he does start advertising, surely that will cut Hillary's lead.

How much will it cut her lead? That's a good question, isn't it?

From today's LA Times coverage of the Hillary Clinton campaign:

On a day in which Clinton was hoping to inflict considerable damage on Donald Trump — this time, by ripping into his economic agenda — her campaign was on the defensive, scurrying to clean up the latest damaging revelations in years-old messages that were sent by Clinton and her staff and released as the result of a lawsuit.

....The fresh batch of emails was pried from the State Department thanks to a lawsuit filed by the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch. It revealed what appeared to be seedy dealings by Clinton’s team at the agency....The emails are not devastating, but they are damaging as Clinton struggles to boost her trustworthiness with voters.

I have developed a fairly regular habit of ignoring the latest Hillary "scandal" for a day or two, just to see how it's going to play out. Nearly all of them turn out to be bogus, and it's hardly worth the time to figure out how and why. So I just wait for other people to do it.

Even the ones that really are a problem are almost always overblown. Emailgate is a prime example. Yeah, it was bad judgment. Hillary screwed up, and if you think that's reason enough not to vote for her, fine. But when you dig into the actual facts, there's surprisingly little there. She had a private server. She turned over all her work emails when asked to. In an unprecedented judicial ruling, they were all released to the public and there was virtually nothing of interest there. Of the "classified" emails, most were retroactively classified (at a low level) in a dreary episode of interagency feuding; three were marked classified at the time but were marked improperly (and were trivial); and 110 were emails Hillary "should have known" were classified, but which dealt with a drone program that everyone on the planet already knew about.

So sure, it's a screwup. But there's not really that much to it. So what about the latest batch of emails. Do they really show "seedy dealings" by Team Hillary?

I dunno. One is from a Clinton Foundation executive asking a Hillary aide if she can set up a meeting for a big donor with someone at State. The Hillary aide says she'll see what she can do, and then blows it off. In another, a foundation executive asks for help getting someone a job. He's told that everyone already knows about the guy, and "Personnel has been sending him options." In other words, he's blown off. In yet another, it turns out that a Clinton aide spent some of her own time helping the foundation look for a new CEO.

So....what? People in Washington schmooze with people they know to help other people they know? Shocking, isn't it? My guess is that the average aide to a cabinet member gets a dozen things like this a week. If all we can find here are two in four years—both of which were basically blown off—the real lesson isn't that Hillary Clinton's State Department was seedy. Just the opposite. It was almost pathologically honest.