The Washington Post has the latest on Flynngate:

The acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States....It is unclear what the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, did with the information.

Well, within a few days Trump had fired Yates for not defending his immigration order. At that point, I imagine no one in the White House felt like approaching the boss with any other bad news she had passed along. In any case, the issue here is threefold. First, did Flynn talk with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition to assure him he shouldn't worry about Obama's sanctions for interfering with the election? Second, was Flynn in touch with Kislyak before the election, while the Russian interference was actively taking place? And third, did he lie about it?

In the waning days of the Obama administration, James R. Clapper Jr., who was the director of national intelligence, and John Brennan, the CIA director at the time, shared Yates’s concerns and concurred with her recommendation to inform the Trump White House. They feared that “Flynn had put himself in a compromising position” and thought that [Vice President Mike Pence] had a right to know that he had been misled, according to one of the officials, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

A senior Trump administration official said that the White House was aware of the matter, adding that “we’ve been working on this for weeks.”

....Kislyak, in a brief interview with The Post, confirmed having contacts with Flynn before and after the election, but he declined to say what was discussed.

So: the intelligence community concurred that Flynn had spoken to Kislyak about sanctions; he "misled" Pence about this; the Trump White House has known about this for weeks; and Flynn was indeed in contact with Kislyak during the campaign. It's no wonder that the White House has declined to stand behind Flynn and now says they are "evaluating the situation."

The New York Times has more details:

The Justice Department had warned the White House that Mr. Flynn...could be open to blackmail by Russia, said a former senior official....The White House has examined a transcript of a wiretapped conversation that Mr. Flynn had with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador....The conversation, according to officials who have seen the transcript of the wiretap, also included a discussion about sanctions imposed on Russia after intelligence agencies determined that President Putin’s regime tried to interfere with the 2016 election on Mr. Trump’s behalf.

Still, current and former administration officials familiar with the call said the transcript was ambiguous enough that Mr. Trump could justify both firing or retaining Mr. Flynn....Former and current administration officials said that Mr. Flynn urged Russia not to retaliate against any sanctions because an overreaction would make any future cooperation more complicated. He never explicitly promised sanctions relief, one former official said, but he appeared to leave the impression that it would be possible.

The AP's Julie Pace confirms that the White House has been aware of this for weeks. The Times claims that Mike Pence is especially peeved at Flynn and has taken his concerns directly to Trump. They also say that White House officials have already started "discussing the possibility of replacements."

The other big question here is, inevitably, what did the president know and when did he know it? Was Flynn freelancing the whole time? Or was he acting with Trump's blessing? A few days ago David Corn asked what had become of the big Russia scandal, which seemed to have disappeared from view, and now we know. It was just waiting for the right moment to rear its ugly head again.

Let us engage in some civil conversation with our friends across the aisle. First, here is David French on terrorism:

There are a few terror-related memes that crawl all over the left side of the internet — all of them designed to minimize, to downplay, the jihadist threat. “Bathtubs are more dangerous than terrorists.” “Toddlers are more dangerous than terrorists.”...One needs to consider capacity and intent. My bathtub isn’t trying to kill me. I don’t need the government to protect me from my furniture or my firearms. I can be a responsible gun owner. I can step gingerly around my allegedly dangerous furniture and learn to keep my head above water in my deadly bathtub, but the average American can know next-to-nothing about ISIS’s next terror plot.

This meme annoys me too. Unlike French, I think it's pretty obvious that the threat to Americans from terrorism is objectively fairly small. But bathtubs don't fight back or change their tactics. Terrorists do. This means that a few minor regulations can make bathtubs safe forever, but keeping terrorism from metastasizing really does require vigilance. We may disagree about how much vigilance, but the comparison to lightning strikes and shark attacks is kind of silly. We should knock it off.

(On the other hand, it's a little rich for French to count "60,000 casualties in the struggle against jihad" by including 3,000 from 9/11 and 57,000 from the Iraq War. If there were ever a poster child for the danger of overreacting to fearmongering about terrorism, the Iraq War is it.)

Next up is David French on this week's episode of Saturday Night Live:

While the attacks on Trump got all the press, there was one skit this weekend that actually took aim at progressive pieties. How did this send-up of sappy leftist commercials make it through quality control? Watch and enjoy:

There's nothing unusual here. Liberals have a long and rich history of making fun of their own excesses. Here are a few famous examples from past decades:

You can find thousands more like this with little effort. But you won't find many examples of conservatives making fun of their excesses. I don't quite know why this is. Maybe conservatives take themselves more seriously than liberals do? Or they're afraid of their most extreme faction while liberals aren't? Or mockery just doesn't appeal much to conservatives regardless of topic? I dunno.

POSTSCRIPT: Yes, this whole post is mostly just an excuse to put up a few funny comedy bits. Guilty as charged.

I'm jumping the gun a little here, but I'd like to remind everyone that during his first month in office, Barack Obama:

  • Signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
  • Banned torture.
  • Signed a $787 billion stimulus bill.
  • Sent 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.
  • Ended the month with a net job approval rating of +27 percent.

Donald Trump still has a few days to go, but so far he has:

  • Signed no legislation.
  • Mostly signed executive orders that are either routine (pay freezes, a halt to new regulation, reversing the Mexico City rule) or little more than PR messages to his base (cracking down on drug cartels, financial regulatory reviews, rebuilding the military, etc.).
  • Signed one executive order that was important, but rolled it out so incompetently that it caused massive chaos and was promptly overturned by the courts.
  • Sat idly by at dinner while aides discussed a North Korean missile launch and then failed to respond in any way at all.
  • Has presided over a White House so epically leak-prone and amateurish that people are already taking bets about which senior officials will get fired within the next few weeks.
  • Ended the month with a net job approval rating of about -8 percent.

This comparison extends to the new Republican Congress too. Obama's Congress was busy immediately with serious legislation. Trump's Congress is struggling to confirm cabinet nominees; is completely at sea about how to tackle Obamacare; and can't seem to agree on how to handle corporate taxes and tariffs. I assume that big tax cuts for the rich are still on the agenda, but it's not yet clear what else is.

Obviously Trump has done some genuine damage already,1 and both Trump and Congress have plenty of time left to wreak a tsunami of even more. But for a guy who was elected to shake things up, he sure hasn't done much real shaking yet. Just a lot of big talk.

1In other words: don't let your guard down. That's not what I'm suggesting here.

This was the scene at Mar-a-Lago as news came in that North Korea had conducted a missile test. The public is all around. Classified documents are lying on the table. People are on the phone where anyone can overhear them. There is no operational security at all. This picture was taken by some random guest from a few feet away. Trump himself just looks bored by the whole thing. Facebook

John Schindler got a lot of attention over the weekend for his Observer article, "The Spy Revolt Against Trump Begins." Here's the bit that raised the most eyebrows:

A new report by CNN indicates that important parts of the infamous spy dossier that professed to shed light on President Trump’s shady Moscow ties have been corroborated by communications intercepts....SIGINT confirms that some of the non-salacious parts of what Steele reported, in particular how senior Russian officials conspired to assist Trump in last year’s election, are substantially based in fact.

....Our spies have had enough of these shady Russian connections—and they are starting to push back....In light of this, and out of worries about the White House’s ability to keep secrets, some of our spy agencies have begun withholding intelligence from the Oval Office. Why risk your most sensitive information if the president may ignore it anyway? A senior National Security Agency official explained that NSA was systematically holding back some of the “good stuff” from the White House, in an unprecedented move.

....What’s going on was explained lucidly by a senior Pentagon intelligence official, who stated that “since January 20, we’ve assumed that the Kremlin has ears inside the SITROOM,” meaning the White House Situation Room, the 5,500 square-foot conference room in the West Wing where the president and his top staffers get intelligence briefings. “There’s not much the Russians don’t know at this point,” the official added in wry frustration.

"Inside" reporting about the intelligence community is notoriously unreliable, so take this with a grain of salt. Maybe it's true, maybe it's not. But just the fact that stuff like this is getting a respectful public hearing is damning all by itself. For any other recent president, a report like this would be dismissed as nonsense without a second thought. But for Trump, it seems plausible enough to take seriously. Stay tuned.

Steve Jobs may be dead, but his reality distortion field lives on:

The speculative frenzy that always precedes a new iPhone has been supercharged in anticipation of the 10th-anniversary release expected later this year. Analysts in research reports have predicted the phone will be one of Apple’s most revolutionary, with some suggesting it will come in three sizes instead of the usual two, with a case made almost entirely of glass and possibly wireless-charging capability.

At least one of the anniversary phones is expected to have an OLED screen, technology that would make the device thinner and lighter. The display, on top of its being an anniversary edition, has led to speculation that Apple could charge record prices for it, said Steven Milunovich, an analyst with UBS.

Three sizes! Wireless charging! An OLED screen! All for a mere thousand dollars.

The sleazy marketing part of me admires the hell out of Apple. They have somehow built up a customer base so loyal that they can explicitly follow a strategy of staying two years behind everyone else and then incorporating whatever features turn out to be popular. Their loyal customers are, apparently, OK with paying astronomical prices for the privilege of always lacking the latest and greatest features. Because it's Apple.

When I switched from an iPhone to an Android phone several years ago, it took me literally no more than a day to get accustomed to the new UI. Phone interfaces, after all, are designed to be super simple, and the iPhone and Android UIs aren't really all that different to begin with. But iPhone users remain fanatically loyal for reasons that escape me. I wonder if this bubble is ever going to burst?

What's the best way for a foreign leader to handle Donald Trump? The last few days have shown us the two approaches that are likely to become most common. The question every leader has to ask is: Should you be a man1 or should you be a mouse?

The Mouse Approach: Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe gave a master class in this technique over the weekend. Trump tried to humiliate him with a monster handshake, and Abe let him. He fawned over Trump's superior golf game. As near as we can tell, he was willing to abase himself endlessly in service of his larger goal: getting Trump to become Japan's BFF. You could practically see the gears turning in Abe's head as he went through with this.2

The Man Approach: This morning, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau took the opposite tack. As Trump closed in for the alpha-dog hand-on-the-shoulder handshake, Trudeau beat him to it. And when Trump suggested another handshake for the cameras, Reuters captured this soon-to-be-classic photo:

Which will work better? Suckering Trump into thinking he's got your number? Or trying to earn Trump's respect by showing you won't be intimidated? Decisions, decisions.

1Or a woman.

2Oh to be a fly on the wall when the Japanese team was alone. I can only imagine what they really think of Trump.

Cops and firefighters voted overwhelmingly for Republicans in Iowa and are now shocked—shocked!—to learn that Republicans are anti-union. The latest attempt to destroy public sector unions exempts public safety employees, but that isn't mollifying anyone:

Hundreds of helmeted firefighters have flooded the Statehouse in the last week and police officers and sheriffs have lined up at committee hearings to speak against it. They don’t trust that this carve-out for their jobs will last long, nor do many of them feel it’s appropriate to deny the bargaining rights they have to fellow workers who have also had them for over 40 years.

....That has many police officer, who voted for Republicans in large numbers this year, particularly upset. “It’s collective begging, that’s what it is,” Thomas labeled the bill at a subcommittee hearing. “Half of law enforcement folks I work with are Republicans. And we voted for Republicans because of conservative values. But we didn’t vote for Republicans to get stabbed in the back while we’re trying to dodge cars and bullets.

It's not exactly a well-kept secret that Republicans have spent the last hundred years opposed to unions, and the last 30 or 40 actively trying to destroy public-sector unions. What did these guys expect? Do their union leaders do anything at all other than issue bulletins whenever some Black Lives Matter protester says something they don't like?

I've put up this chart before, but it's worth putting up again. This is President Trump's job approval rating since Inauguration Day:

I've read a bunch of stories saying that Trump's job approval has cratered since he took office, but that's not really true: it's gone up two points. Now, it's also true that his disapproval rating has skyrocketed, which means that his net approval rating (approve minus disapprove) has gone down (from +3 to -6.4).

My take is simple: this means that his fans like him more than ever, while everyone else dislikes him more than ever. Perhaps this level of polarization is normal these days. But it's a little more complicated than "Trump's job approval has gone down."

Bloomberg reports that foreigners are tripping over themselves to unload their holdings of US treasuries:

In the age of Trump, America’s biggest foreign creditors are suddenly having second thoughts about financing the U.S. government.

....From Tokyo to Beijing and London, the consensus is clear: few overseas investors want to step into the $13.9 trillion U.S. Treasury market right now. Whether it’s the prospect of bigger deficits and more inflation under President Donald Trump or higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve, the world’s safest debt market seems less of a sure thing — particularly after the upswing in yields since November. And then there is Trump’s penchant for saber rattling, which has made staying home that much easier.

....Combined with the unpredictability of Trump’s tweet storms, interest-rate increases in the U.S. could further sap overseas demand....Right now, it’s just “much easier to stay home than go abroad,” said Shyam Rajan, Bank of America’s head of U.S. rates strategy.

Hmmm. The age of Trump? According to the Treasury Department, the selloff started in June:

Preliminary figures from Japan suggest that December will be much the same as November, which means foreigners will have sold off nearly a half-trillion dollars worth of treasuries in six months. That's 7 percent of their total holdings. The only other time there's been a selloff this sustained was at the tail end of the dotcom boom.

But is it Trump's fault? Nobody thought he had a chance of winning until November, so it's hard to see how he could have caused uneasiness with federal debt back in June. I don't imagine Trump has done the US debt market any favors, but on this score, at least, I suspect he's getting more blame than he deserves.

I'm not a music person, so I have no particular personal opinion about Beyoncé's musical powers. However, I do have an opinion about the increasingly tedious insistence that every time she shows her face publicly she has absolutely crushed, slayed, and otherwise annihilated every other musician currently alive or who has ever lived. I figured the same thing would happen tonight at the Grammys. Sure enough, the Daily Beast's Kevin Fallon posted a thousand-word review of her performance that is, in tribute to Beyoncé's reality-warping power, time-stamped an hour before she actually performed. Here's a sample:

It’s a remarkable feat to resuscitate a nation while simultaneously taking their breath away, but such is the otherworldly power of Beyoncé...spiritual, sweeping...ethereal glow...jaw-dropping...leaps and bounds ahead of all her peers...trippy, spellbinding...a tribute to healing and resilience...Glorious is certainly one word to describe Sunday night’s galvanizing affair...ambitious, artistically audacious...she rises, and she lifts us up with her bold performance...gorgeous, provocative...It was glorious.

I assume the second use of "glorious" is because Fallon ran out of entries in his thesaurus.

Come on, folks. Beyoncé may be the best performer working today—I wouldn't know—but can we start treating her like an actual human being? This stuff is just embarrassing.