Congress is in recess, but Robert Costa reports that Republicans are still hard at work on yet another health care bill:

So the plan is to gavel the House back into session on Tuesday and then vote on the bill on Wednesday. Really?

I can well imagine. The Republican leadership is stuck: the only way to pass a health care bill is to do it fast, before there's a CBO score and a million phone calls and an outbreak of fighting between moderates and HFC ultras. But there's a limit to how far they can push even the folks who sympathize with them. I mean, negotiate in secret, drop the text, and then give everyone 24 hours to read it before holding a vote? That's a mockery of your own caucus, let alone everyone else.

I confess that I don't quite get the point of all this anyway. Even if these junior high school antics manage to get a bill passed in the House, it still has to go to the Senate, where it won't sail through in 24 hours. There will be plenty of time for the CBO score and all the rest, not to mention negotiations between the House and Senate. One way or another, this process will take a while. So what's gained by making every Republican in the House take a difficult vote when the outcome will most likely be the same as last time?

This whole thing is crazy. I still don't quite understand how gutting health care helps tax reform down the road, but let's assume it does. Who cares? Without the health care bill, Republicans can still pass any tax bill they want with a ten-year expiration. So just do it. Then extend it next year. And the next. Keep doing this every year, and they're guaranteed to have at least ten years of their tax plan after they lose power. Of course, if Democrats ever win total control of Congress and the presidency, they'll change things, but they can do that regardless.

It sure seems like Republicans are spending a lot of political capital for not much benefit. In Washington, ten years might as well be forever. They should just shore up Obamacare a little to get it off their plates, pass a ten-year tax bill, and declare victory.

Jon Ossoff's near win in the special election in Georgia's 6th congressional district has spurred a lot of conversation about how this represents a huge electoral shift that may be a harbinger of disaster for Republicans in the 2018 midterms. Maybe. That's a long time away, and a lot of things can happen between now and then. In the meantime, though, this chart from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution gives a pretty good idea about what really happened:

This is a district that's been steadily shifting Democratic for years, in both presidential and congressional races. In 2000 it favored George Bush over Al Gore by nearly 40 points. In 2012 that gap was down to about 20 points. The 2016 election accelerated that trend, with Donald Trump squeaking by with only the barest possible victory. There was unquestionably both a long-term Democratic tailwind in the district and a Trump effect specific to 2016.

During that same period, congressman Tom Price went from a 40-point victory in 2006 (his first as an incumbent) to a 20-point victory in 2016. Remove the incumbency effect and it's not surprising that Jon Ossoff cut that lead to a couple of points earlier this week. There's a long-term Democratic tailwind and an incumbency effect specific to 2017.

If Ossoff wins the runoff—or loses a close race—it's unclear exactly what this means. Is it a huge turnaround in electoral fortunes? Or a modest turnaround fueled mostly by the lack of an incumbent and only a little by the Trump effect? I suspect the latter, though I'm not quite sure what evidence we can bring to bear to sort this out. Come back in eight weeks and we'll take another crack at it.

This is from the LA Times yesterday:

The Los Angeles Police Commission voted Tuesday to require officers to try, whenever possible, to defuse tense encounters before firing their guns — a policy shift that marks a significant milestone in the board’s attempts to curb shootings by police.

Wait. This is new? This hasn't always been LAPD policy? Apparently not, and apparently not much of anywhere else, either:

As criticism of policing flared across the country, particularly after deadly shootings by officers, law enforcement agencies looked to de-escalation as a way to help restore public trust. Like the LAPD, other departments have emphasized the approach in training and policies.

The Seattle Police Department requires officers to attempt de-escalation strategies, such as trying to calm someone down verbally or calling a mental health unit to the scene. Santa Monica police have similar rules in place, telling officers to try to “slow down, reduce the intensity or stabilize the situation” to minimize the need to use force.

....The focus on de-escalation represents a broader shift in law enforcement, said Samuel Walker, a retired criminal justice professor and expert in police accountability. Now, he said, there’s an understanding that officers can shape how an encounter plays out. “This is absolutely the right thing to do,” he added.

This is especially important in Los Angeles:

African Americans continue to represent a disproportionate number of the people shot at by officers. Nearly a third of the people shot at last year were black — a 7% increase from 2015. Black people make up about 9% of the city’s population but 40% of homicide victims and 43% of violent crime suspects, the report noted.

The LAPD also topped a list of big-city agencies with the highest number of deadly shootings by officers. Police in Los Angeles fatally shot more people than officers in Chicago, New York, Houston and Philadelphia did, the report said. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department came in second, with 15 deadly shootings.

Go ahead and call me naive, but I would have figured that de-escalation was standard protocol everywhere. Not always followed in practice, of course, but at least theoretically what cops are supposed to do. But apparently not. It sounds like it started to catch on after Ferguson, and is only now being adopted as official policy in a few places.

Better late than never, I suppose, but I wonder what's stopping this from being universally adopted? What's the downside?

Evening Garbage Roundup

Apropos of my previous post, Natasha Bertrand points out that at the exact same time the Russian RISS think tank recommended a messaging change to focus on voter fraud, Donald Trump suddenly started talking about "rigged elections." I'm sure it was just a coincidence:

And there's also this about Jon Ossoff's near-victory in Georgia last night:

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in an interview Tuesday in Louisville, Ky., said he didn’t know much about Mr. Ossoff, a 30-year-old former House staffer. Mr. Sanders said he isn’t prepared to back Democrats just because of a party label. “If you run as a Democrat, you’re a Democrat,” he said. “Some Democrats are progressive and some Democrats are not.”

Asked if Mr. Ossoff is a progressive, Mr. Sanders, an independent who challenged Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary, demurred. “I don’t know,” he said.

I know how touchy this subject is, but come on. Ossoff is obviously no fire breather, but he's been the center of progressive attention for weeks now. Would it kill Sanders to spend a few minutes learning who he is and what he's about—and whether that's good enough for an endorsement? If Sanders wants to be a party leader—and he's given every indication that he does—he needs to pay more attention to this stuff. He can start here.

UPDATE: There were originally three items in this post. The third one was a tweet about something Mike Huckabee said, but the tweet has since been deleted because it misrepresented Huckabee's comment. I've deleted the reference to it.

Reuters reports that Vladimir Putin personally directed RISS, a Russian think tank, to develop plans to interfere with the US election:

A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.

....The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals. It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.

A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.

According to Reuters, there's no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded in this. It was purely a Russian operation. Nor did the RISS plans say anything about the release of hacked emails. "The officials said the hacking was a covert intelligence operation run separately out of the Kremlin."

So we have the RISS plan. We have the email hacks, which were far more extensive than initially reported. We have the RT cable network and the Sputnik news agency, which specialized in anti-Clinton stories. We have the Russian troll factory in St. Petersburg writing pro-Trump tweets under hundreds of aliases. We have thousands of Russian Twitter bots to make sure the tweets went viral. We have Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear and dozens of other covert Russian operations. We have Guccifer 2.0. We have DCLeaks.com. And finally, Russia appears to have used Wikileaks—either wittingly or unwittingly—for maximum exposure of all its hacks.

That's a pretty big operation. Did it work? We'll never know, but given how close the election was, the answer is probably yes.

Todd Ricketts, President Trump's choice for deputy Commerce Secretary, has withdrawn. Can you guess why? Yep: because he's so rich that he can't "untangle" himself from his financial holdings to the satisfaction of the Office of Government Ethics. Trump himself may not be subject to normal ethics rules, but everyone else is. And let's face it: no one with substantial wealth really wants to go through all this divestment and blind trust folderol just for a deputy position. Especially in the Commerce Department, which ranks pretty low on everyone's list of cabinet agencies.

There's an interesting backstory here that you may remember from campaign season. Last February Trump tweeted this: "I hear the Rickets family, who own the Chicago Cubs, are secretly spending $'s against me. They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!" He was apparently threatening Todd's mother, who contributed to anti-Trump causes early in the primaries, but Todd was willing to work for Trump anyway. Seems a little odd, no? In any case, I guess he was willing to work for Trump, but not all that willing.

Via Joe Romm, NOAA reports a new record on the climate change front. Actually, we've set lots of new records recently, but most have been due to last year's strong El Niño, which sent global temperatures skyrocketing. What about during a normal year with neither an El Niño nor a La Niña?

Well, the past couple of months have had neither. We have been "ENSO neutral," in the jargon. And boy was it hot. According to NOAA, March 2017 marks "the first time a monthly temperature departure from average surpasses 1.0°C (1.8°F) in the absence of an El Niño episode in the tropical Pacific Ocean."

Luckily for all of us, Donald Trump will soon defund NOAA's climate research so we can pretend none of this is happening. I feel better already.

Lunchtime Photo

I struggled with the choice of photo today. Should I post (a) the best possible photo of our backyard lizard? Or should I post (b) an OK photo that benefits from having a monstrous, Land-of-the-Giants-esque cat nose dominating one corner? Or, for the unsqueamish, (c) a picture of Hilbert picking up the lizard in a remarkable delicate way?

Decisions, decisions. I guess I'll go with option A, which really shows off the way this little guy can blend in with the surrounding foliage. He's pretty good at it, but not quite good enough to escape feline attention.

The jig is up for Bill-O:

“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” 21st Century Fox said in a statement.

....The decision to oust O’Reilly was a tricky one for Fox News because he is the network’s most popular anchor. But the Murdoch family, which controls Fox News parent 21st Century Fox, faced pressure to act in the face of mounting negative publicity surrounding the sexual harassment claims against O’Reilly.

And now for our next topic: Who will replace O'Reilly in his time spot? Tucker Carlson? A blonde woman? Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Meh. It's Tucker Carlson. He's now had the 7 pm, 8 pm, and 9 pm time slots in the five months he's been at Fox News. He took over the 7 pm slot when Greta van Susteren left, the 9 pm slot when Megyn Kelly left, and now the 8 pm slot when O'Reilly was fired. Pretty lucky timing for Tucker.

Here's the latest on our misplaced aircraft carrier:

Press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday the White House does not bear responsibility for public statements indicating that a U.S. aircraft carrier was headed for the Korean Peninsula earlier this month when it was, in fact, sailing in the opposite direction.

All questions as to why the USS Carl Vinson and its accompanying strike group were photographed traveling south past Indonesia after U.S. officials said the vessels would be deployed in the waters off the Korean Peninsula should be directed to the Pentagon and U.S. Pacific Command, Spicer said.

Well duh. Of course the White House bears no responsibility. Just because Donald Trump is the commander-in-chief doesn't mean the buck stops with him.

But I still want to know something: Who gave the order for the Carl Vinson to steam toward North Korea? Was it Trump? What order did he give? Was that order carried out? Or was it someone else's decision entirely?

This is, admittedly, something of a gotcha question, but it's also a real question. The chain of command starts with Trump, and we all have a stake in how well it's working. This particular mistake—if mistake it was—was fairly harmless. That might not always be the case.