It's a weekend. How about some gossip?

Apparently David Petraeus has withdrawn his name for consideration over the same issue as Robert Harward. He wants control over NSC personnel, but Trump refuses to give up McFarland as deputy. Given the fact that McFarland hasn't held a government post in over 30 years and is wildly unqualified to be the #2 person on the National Security Council, there must be some strangely tight bond to account for Trump keeping her even though it's preventing him from appointing his preferred candidates to the #1 spot.

OTOH, we also know that Trump doesn't like John Bolton's walrus mustache. Would he demand that Bolton shave it off as a requirement of the job?

It's getting tougher and tougher to obtain the lethal cocktail used to execute prisoners convicted of capital crimes:

Now Arizona has responded with a new — and some say bizarre — solution to this quandary: Death row inmates can bring their own execution drugs. The state’s manual for execution procedures, which was revised last month, says attorneys of death row inmates, or others acting on their behalf, can obtain pentobarbital or sodium Pentothal and give them to the state to ensure a smooth execution.

Note to conservatives: sometimes you just have to give up. Do you really care that much about killing lots of bad guys as opposed to letting them rot in prison for the rest of their lives? It might be time to let go and save your energy for other battles. This one is getting absurd.

The Congressional Budget Office forecasts that the labor force will grow 0.5 percent annually over the next ten years and productivity will grow 1.4 percent. That's total economic growth of 1.9 percent per year. But the Trumpists are forecasting 3.5 percent growth over the next decade. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they supercharge the economy, pulling everyone back into work and achieving labor force growth of 0.8 percent. They still need productivity growth of 2.7 percent. That's astronomically higher than anyone thinks possible. So how are Trump's economists justifying this?

The answer is simplicity itself. The Wall Street Journal explains:

What’s unusual about the administration’s forecasts isn’t just their relative optimism but also the process by which they were derived. Normally, the executive branch starts with a baseline forecast prepared by career staff of the CEA....Discussions for the Trump administration unfolded differently, with transition officials telling the CEA staff the growth targets that their budget would produce and asking them to backfill other estimates off those figures.

So...they're doing it by just telling their economists what growth will be. That's an interesting approach. But what's the point of this? Here's a pair of growth forecasts—one for 2 percent and one for 4 percent—that should illustrate things:

If you assume higher growth, you can cut taxes and still get more revenue. Alternatively, you can spend more on the military or a border wall without increasing the deficit. Or a combination of both.

In other words, it's magic fairy dust. Sprinkle it around and you can do anything you want. Problems only arise if a bunch of snooty Ivy League economists insist that you're delusional, which explains why Trump hasn't bothered to hire anyone for his Council of Economic Advisors. They would just tell him stuff he doesn't want to hear. It also explains why Paul Ryan isn't playing this game too: his budget is vetted by the CBO, which has no intention of aiding and abetting fantasyland figures like these.

It's hard to know what the point of this is. Most likely, Trump said on the campaign trail that he'd grow the economy at 4 percent, and by God he's going to stick with that. (Remember: 3.5 rounds up to 4, so his campaign promise is safe.) Besides, Trump probably really believes that he can get the economy growing that fast through the sheer force of his personality.

The real shock here isn't Trump—we already know he's divorced from reality—but the rest of his staff. Is there really not a single person in the White House who has both the gumption and the standing to tell Trump that the president can't peddle this kind of drivel in an official document? Is there no one who can tell him that Twitter is one thing, but the Budget of the United States of America is another?

I guess not.

UPDATE: The original illustration of 2 percent vs. 4 percent growth used figures for nine years of growth instead of ten. It's been corrected.

At 4:32 pm, President Trump put up this tweet:

It was quickly deleted and 16 minutes later it was replaced with this:

Fascinating! Here are the edits Trump made:

  1. Changed "and many more" to the more specific @ABC and @CBS.
  2. Eliminated the ugly extra spaces after the parentheses.
  3. Capitalized the P in "people."
  4. Removed "SICK!"

What can this mean? Did someone tell Trump that his tweet sounded like something Hitler might have written and he should probably revise it? No one has ever told him this before, so it seems unlikely this time too. Presumably he made these changes all on his own. Let's do a little Kremlinology here:

  1. It's obvious that Trump's real enemies are CNN, NBC, and the Times. Then, later, he tossed in CBS and ABC. Was this to cover his tracks? Nah. He doesn't care what us overeducated elitists think. More likely it's because he decided his fans1 wouldn't automatically fill in ABC and CBS, so he needed to be more explicit about it. After all, he wants his fans to distrust all the media they consume except for Fox, so it makes sense to be very clear about this.
  2. Eliminating the spaces is either because Trump has a love of neatness we've never seen before, or because they pushed his tweet over 140 characters. However, the tweet is only 123 characters long, so I guess it must have been a purely esthetic bit of editing.
  3. Hmmm. American people vs. American People. That's a tough one. The latter is more Germanic, which might have appealed to him. In English, though, it's also less literate. That might have appealed to him too. Or, maybe Trump just capitalizes stuff randomly and there's nothing to this.
  4. This is the real chin scratcher. Did he think that SICK! was going too far? I can't imagine why. And the one-word adjective at the end is standard Trump Twitter grammar. We do know that Trump is a germaphobe, so maybe he doesn't even like typing the word. However, a quick search shows that he's called several people sick in the past year (Karl Rove, Megyn Kelly, failing New York Times). So what is it? WHY DID DONALD TRUMP REMOVE THE WORD "SICK" FROM THIS TWEET???

Oh, and by the way, calling the press an enemy of the people really is pretty Hitleresque. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that an awful lot of Trump's supporters might not consider that such a bad thing.

1As always, remember that his supporters are the audience for his tweets, not you or me.

We have exciting news this week: Yale University has decided to rename one of its colleges after Hopper. It's a well-deserved honor for her contributions to this blog, and she will be replacing the odious John Calhoun, who spent the second half of his life defending states rights and slavery in uncompromising terms.

You will note, by the way, that Yale plans to keep up a pretense in public that Hopper College is actually named after an admiral who earned degrees from Yale in the 30s and went on to do some kind of computer stuff. But we all know better, don't we?

I missed this when it was first written—probably because it was only a week after Donald Trump won the election—but Robert Waldmann decided to check out a few of his predictions:

In April 2008, I predicted that the UK violent crime rate would peak some time around 2008. I just googled and found that it peaked in around 2006 or 2007.

Here's the chart, courtesy of the Institute for Economics and Peace:

Note two things here. First, Britain's violent crime rate peaked about 15 years after it did in the US. Second, it dropped a lot faster than it did in the US. Why?

Because, first, Britain adopted unleaded gasoline about 13 years after the US (1988 vs. 1975). And second, because it phased out leaded gasoline a lot faster than the US. Within four years Britain had cut lead emissions by two-thirds, which means there was a very sharp break between infants born in high-lead and low-lead environments. Likewise, this means there was a sharp break between 18-year-olds with and without brain damage. In 2006, nearly all 18-year-olds had grown up with lead poisoned brains. By 2010, that had dropped substantially, which accounts for the stunning 40 percent drop in violent crime in such a short time.1

This is one of the reasons the lead-crime hypothesis is so persuasive. Not only does recorded crime fit the predictions of the theory—both in timing and slope—but it does so in many different countries. What other theory would predict a gradual drop in violent crime between 1991-2010 in the US and a sharp decline in violent crime between 2006-10 in Britain? Especially considering that the US and Britain have entirely different policing, poverty rates, race issues, etc.?

Anyway, I might as well take this opportunity to repeat my prediction that terrorism in the Middle East will begin to decline between 2020-30. You heard it here first.

1And it continued dropping for several years after that. There was a big increase last year, but it was almost entirely driven by changes in measurement, not changes in the actual crime rate.

Sarah Kliff reports on one way Republicans are thinking about paying for their Obamacare replacement:

Republican legislators need a way to pay for their eventual Obamacare replacement plan. One leading contender is capping the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance, which shows up in multiple replacement plans as well as recent interviews with legislators. It’s going to be a huge fight.

Right now, companies and their workers pay no taxes on health benefits. This means the federal government misses out on a lot of potential revenue — $260 billion in 2013, according to Congressional Budget Office data.

This is not just a huge fight, it's probably an unwinnable fight. As Kliff points out, Obamacare's Cadillac tax is a cousin of this proposal—it levies a fine on extremely expensive plans sometime in the future—and even at that it's already been delayed from 2018 to 2020 and most likely will never be allowed to take effect.

By contrast, the Republican plan would have to affect far more plans and it would have to affect them right away. If it doesn't, it won't raise any money. For example, here's a CBO estimate of revenue from a plan that taxes about half of the value of employer-based health plans:

That's a fair amount of revenue, but CBO also estimates that it would lead to about 6 million people losing their employer plans by Year 5. And even among the workers who didn't lose their coverage, they'd probably get hit with reduced benefits or increased deductibles.

Do you remember the fuss over "if you like your health plan, you can keep it"? That promise was actually true for all but about two percent of the insured population, but that two percent caused massive conservative outrage anyway. A Republican plan that affected 50 percent of the insured population would cause heads to explode. So naturally they'd try to phase it in, or back load it, or delay it for a few years, or something—anything—to keep it from biting too hard at first. But the more they do this, the less money it will raise. If you limit it to, say, the top ten percent and phase it in over five years, it would probably raise $10-15 billion in Year 10. That's hardly worth it.

Bottom line: if Republicans do this in a serious way, it will raise money but the entire country will go ballistic. If they try to play games, it might keep the outrage tamped down, but it won't raise enough money to be worth it. Economically it might be a good idea, but politically, I just don't see how they can pull this off.

Of course, they could raise the same amount of money just by levying a small tax on rich people. Obviously that's out of the question though.

From the AP:

The Trump administration is considering a proposal to mobilize as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants, including millions living nowhere near the Mexico border, according to a draft memo obtained by The Associated Press.

The 11-page document calls for the unprecedented militarization of immigration enforcement as far north as Portland, Oregon, and as far east as New Orleans, Louisiana....Governors in the 11 states would have a choice whether to have their guard troops participate, according to the memo, written by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general.

....Requests to the White House and the Department of Homeland Security for comment and a status report on the proposal were not answered.

The White House may not have commented when the AP called them, but now that the story has been published they're suddenly outraged:

Hmmm. This is not true. But has it ever been true? Perhaps we wouldn't need to parse the verb tense so closely if it were any other press secretary, but I think we should with Sean Spicer. And if it's not true, what's up with the memo? Is it a forgery? Was it written by one of those scurrilous "Obama holdovers" who infest the federal government and are trying to make Trump look bad at every turn? Inquiring minds want to know.

The New York Times explains why President Trump decided to hold a press conference today:

For days, a frustrated and simmering president fumed inside the West Wing residence about what aides said he saw as his staff’s inadequate defense and the ineffectiveness of his own tweets....“I turn on the T.V., open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos,” Mr. Trump said as he attempted — with little discipline — to read from prepared remarks listing his accomplishments since being inaugurated one month ago. “Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.

....It all made the brooding boss feel better, people close to Mr. Trump said. The news conference, they said, was Mr. Trump’s best effort at spitting the bit out of his mouth and escaping the bridle of the West Wing, where he views his only way to communicate his side of any argument is his 140-character limited Twitter feed.

The weird thing is that I suspect Trump believes this. Within his little bubble, everything really does seem to be running smoothly. He signs executive orders, holds "listening sessions," meets with foreign leaders, and issues directives to his staff. He's doing what he imagines a president should do, and figures that should produce presidential results. If the press says otherwise, then that's prima facie evidence that the press is dishonest and has it out for him.

In other news, a judge has ordered EPA nominee Scott Pruitt to release thousands of emails he exchanged with fossil fuel interests while he was attorney general of Oklahoma. But he has until Tuesday to release them, and Pruitt's confirmation vote is Friday:

Senate Democrats have latched onto the court case in a last-ditch attempt to delay Friday afternoon’s expected vote. “Sometime — a week from now, maybe days from now — my fear is that a number of members, especially on the other side, will have been put in a very bad position and asked to vote for a nominee that they otherwise may not have supported had they known,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said on Thursday.

On the immigration front, it turns out that Trump is getting cold feet about ending DACA, the Obama program that protects illegal immigrants who were brought to the US as children. He thinks of himself as a guy with a heart, and hates the idea of doing something that will make him look callous. His staff, however, has no such qualms. The LA Times reports that they've come up with a couple of ways to end DACA without Trump himself doing anything:

Trump aides [are considering] new legal guidance that details who is a priority for deportation. If the Justice Department determines that DACA is not legal or is no longer a responsible use of prosecutorial discretion, the Department of Homeland Security would be instructed to stop awarding and renewing work permits.

Another possible path involves the courts. A handful of governors are considering a challenge patterned on the 2014 lawsuit filed by several conservative state officials against the Obama administration’s expansion of deportation protections. If they sue, Sessions could instruct his lawyers not to defend the program in court, exposing it to indefinite suspension by a federal judge.

With Trump, the buck always stops somewhere else. Finally, yet more people are leaving the Trump administration:

Shermichael Singleton, who was one of the few black conservatives in the Trump administration, had been working at the Department of Housing and Urban Development....Mr. Trump’s advisers turned up public writings by Mr. Singleton that appeared during the later stages of the campaign in which he was deeply critical of the candidate.

Can't have that! Plus this:

Several White House staffers were dismissed Thursday morning after failing FBI background checks, according to sources familiar with the matter. Some of the aides were "walked out of the building by security" on Wednesday after not passing the SF86, a Questionnaire for National Security Positions for security clearance.

Apparently six people failed their background checks. This kind of stuff happens, but six? That's pretty remarkable. I've updated the Dead Pool below.

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?