Blogs | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Chart of the Day: The Skyrocketing Federal Workforce <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A bunch of little things happened this afternoon. They're not really big enough for a full post each, so here's a little roundup. First up, President Trump signed an order freezing the federal workforce. This is part of the standard conservative playbook, and I doubt it means much in the long run. However, press secretary Sean Spicer&mdash;who moments earlier had said he would never lie to us&mdash;explained that Trump's order "counters the dramatic expansion of the federal workforce in recent years." Just for the record, <a href="" target="_blank">here's that dramatic expansion:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_federal_workforce_1967_2017.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>If you look closely, you can see the dramatic expansion at the far right of the beige line. Do you see it? No? Look harder. Use your browser to zoom in. See? There it is! The federal workforce increased from 2.09 million in 2014 to 2.12 million in 2015. And it probably went up to 2.14 million or so in 2016. That's less than it was at the end of the Reagan administration.</p> <p>In other news, <a href="" target="_blank">the <em>Weekly Standard</em> has this:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Republican leadership is rethinking its relationship with Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer</strong> after Schumer betrayed a promise to allow a vote last Friday on President Donald Trump's pick for CIA director....Schumer agreed to a Friday Senate vote for the confirmation of Kansas representative Mike Pompeo in exchange for a Republican concession to delay Pompeo's hearing by one day, TWS reported Monday. The deal went awry when Oregon senator Ron Wyden and other Democrats objected to the Friday vote, pushing it to Monday, sources said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Anybody who's been alive and sentient for the past eight years will just giggle at the supposed Republican outrage over a <em>one-day</em> delay. Democrats counted themselves lucky if they managed to get only a one-month delay for most of President Obama's appointees. Delays of a year were hardly uncommon, and some delays were explicitly forever.</p> <p>But beyond partisan point scoring, there's an actual serious point to make about this. Although Republicans have said they don't plan to eliminate the filibuster, there's always been an unspoken caveat: <em>if Democrats behave.</em> But it's been obvious all along that it won't be long before they decide that Democrats have done something so outrageous that they're left with no choice but to blow things up. The Pompeo thing is the first shot in this war, and it's an indication of just how delicate Republicans will pretend to be over every tiny slight.</p> <p>And speaking of Pompeo, check this out:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">.<a href="">@RonWyden</a> spoke at length, said Pompeo dodged every key question his office submitted in writing, including classified questions.</p> &mdash; Corey Pein (@coreypein) <a href="">January 23, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">.<a href="">@RonWyden</a> says Pompeo wants &ldquo;the most sweeping new surveillance program I have ever heard of&rdquo;&mdash;phone, email, social media in one database.</p> &mdash; Corey Pein (@coreypein) <a href="">January 23, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>This sounds an awful lot like "Total Information Awareness," the Bush-era program that was canceled by Congress in 2003. Even two years after 9/11, it was too much for us to swallow. But I guess Pompeo wants to bring it back. After all, with a guy like Trump in the White House there's no real possibility that it will be misused. Right?</p> <p>Finally, on a different subject entirely, do you remember that Aetna announced plans last year to pull back from the Obamacare exchanges? This was supposedly a purely business decision: they were losing too much money and couldn't sustain further losses. But then <a href="" target="_blank">the <em>Huffington Post</em> unearthed a letter</a> from Aetna's CEO to the Department of Justice that sounded an awful lot like a shakedown: if DOJ rejected Aetna's proposed merger with Humana, he said, "we will immediately take action to reduce our 2017 exchange footprint....instead of expanding to 20 states next year, we would reduce our presence to no more than 10 states."</p> <p>Well, Aetna <em>was</em> losing money in a lot of places, but it also pulled back from 17 counties in Florida, Georgia, and Missouri, where it was profitable. Why? Because the Department of Justice specifically named those counties as places that would be harmed by a merger. Given all of this, a federal judge ruled today that Aetna's pullback wasn't entirely a business decision after all. <a href="" target="_blank">Here's <em>BuzzFeed</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;<strong>Aetna was willing to offer to expand its participation in the exchanges if DOJ did not block the merger,</strong> or conversely, was willing to threaten to limit its participation in the exchanges if DOJ did,&rdquo; Judge [John] Bates said Monday.</p> <p>....Monday&rsquo;s ruling cited internal documents showing Aetna was planning to withdraw from many health insurance exchanges for business reasons. But it said that on the day the Justice Department sued to block the merger, &ldquo;Aetna employees were instructed to gather information regarding the 17 complaint counties.&rdquo;...The emails specifically show Aetna executives confirming that Humana was present in those 17 counties, which, an executive said, <strong>&ldquo;makes it easy we need to withdraw from those.&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>....When Aetna said it was leaving the Florida counties, its own Florida exchange head said in an email, &ldquo;I just can&rsquo;t make sense out of the Florida decision....Never thought we would pull the plug all together. Based on the latest run rate data ... we are making money from the on-exchange business.&rdquo; An Aetna executive responded by saying they should discuss it on the phone. <strong>The executive later testified in the trial, &ldquo;these requests for phone calls were an attempt to avoid leaving a paper trail.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Luckily, I'm sure Aetna has nothing to worry about. President Trump will negotiate a great deal with Aetna for whatever tremendously great health care plan he comes up with, and DOJ will then withdraw its complaint. Bygones, you know.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 24 Jan 2017 01:16:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 323826 at Liveblogging Sean Spicer's First Press Briefing <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Sean Spicer is holding his first press conference today. The first three questions go to the <em>New York Post</em>, the Christian Broadcasting Network, and Fox News. They all ask softball questions.</p> <p>How about those reports that US planes are attacking ISIS in collaboration with the Russians? Spicer refuses to deny it even though <a href="" target="_blank">the Pentagon has already called the claim "rubbish."</a></p> <p>Finally someone asks about Spicer's debacle on Saturday. It turns out that Spicer is upset about anyone questioning his integrity and claims that everything he said on Saturday was based on the best information at the time. Furthermore, he stands by his statement that Trump's inauguration was the most watched of all time. Sure, Reagan had 41 million viewers, but Reagan didn't have YouTube.<sup>1</sup> Once you add in that, plus Facebook and smartphones and all that stuff, then Trump kicked Reagan's ass, amirite?</p> <p>Then Spicer refuses to say what the unemployment rate is. There's a lot of different statistics out there, and anyway, Trump prefers to think of people, not faceless statistics. That's just the kind of guy he is.</p> <p>What is Trump going to do about climate change? "He's going to meet with his team."</p> <p>What are Trump's first three <em>legislative</em> priorities? Immigration, tax reform, regulatory reform. And that's not just the wall, either. We need a complete immigration overhaul.</p> <p>Trump has no immediate plans to revoke DACA, the "mini-DREAM" act signed by President Obama. I wonder what the immigration hawks think of this?</p> <p>What kind of relationship does Trump plan with China? "He understands what a big market that is." Okey doke.</p> <p>Spicer is now denying that the cheers during Trump's CIA speech were mostly coming from folks that he brought along. "Just listen to the cheers. It was more than a few people."</p> <p>I guess this could last forever, and I'm getting hungry. My professionalism has a limit, and it's now been reached. Spicer is droning on about the perfidy of the press and how Trump always outperforms people's expectations. Then we hear yet again about his outrage over the incorrect reporting regarding the MLK bust in the Oval Office. Spicer now claiming that Trump is treated way worse that any other president in history. Blah blah blah. That's it for me.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>This is pretty much a direct quote: "Reagan didn't have YouTube."</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 23 Jan 2017 19:30:15 +0000 Kevin Drum 323801 at In Israel, Trump's Victory Means Full Speed Ahead on Settlements <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>It's full speed ahead for creating yet more facts on the ground in Israel. <a href="" target="_blank">The <em>LA Times</em> reports:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The city of Jerusalem, emboldened by anticipated support from the Trump administration, <strong>on Sunday authorized the construction of some 560 new homes in areas of the city claimed by the Palestinians as a capital of their future state</strong>....A new era has begun,&rdquo; Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, told Israeli reporters, calling on government ministers to support a decision to extend Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank.</p> <p>....Members of Netanyahu&rsquo;s coalition are <strong>pushing for a parliamentary bill to annex Maale Adumim,</strong> a sprawling settlement east of Jerusalem with a population of tens of thousands. Annexing it would nearly sever the West Bank between north and south.</p> <p><strong>&ldquo;There is a giant change in the policy of the U.S., and we have to take that change into account &mdash; for our own benefit,&rdquo;</strong> said Ofir Akunis, a lawmaker from Netanyahu&rsquo;s Likud party, who said he would support annexation.</p> </blockquote> <p>Considering that Barack Obama spent eight years trying to slow down Israeli settlements and it had no evident impact, we can only imagine what's going to happen now that Israelis have a US president who openly approves of annexing every square meter of land they can.</p> <p>I just don't know how this all turns out. It's been obvious for a while that the two-state solution is dead. Prime Minister Netanyahu has obviously never supported it, and demographic changes have pushed Israeli politics to the point where Netanyahu is actually a bit dovish compared to the rest of his coalition. They're just going to keep building and building until something stops them&mdash;and at the moment, I'm not sure what something could be. If the entire rest of the world literally stopped trading with Israel, cut off diplomatic relations, and refused entry to all Israeli citizens&mdash;that <em>might</em> do it. But that's not going to happen, and I'm not sure that would be enough anyway as long as the US is still in Israel's corner.</p> <p>I guess Jared Kushner will be tasked with "negotiating" something that will end up making all of this official policy. The rest of us are just going to have to figure out how to respond.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 23 Jan 2017 18:07:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 323786 at CIA: Trump Brought His Own Cheering Section to Saturday Visit <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>CBS News has confirmed what we all suspected about <a href="" target="_blank">President Trump's visit to the CIA on Saturday:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>An official said the visit &ldquo;made relations with the intelligence community worse&rdquo; and <strong>described the visit as &ldquo;uncomfortable.&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>Authorities are also pushing back against the perception that the CIA workforce was cheering for the president. <strong>They say the first three rows in front of the president were largely made up of supporters of Mr. Trump&rsquo;s campaign.</strong></p> <p>An official with knowledge of the make-up of the crowd says that there were about 40 people who&rsquo;d been invited by the Trump, Mike Pence and Rep. Mike Pompeo teams....There were about 400 members of the workforce who RSVP&rsquo;d for the event out of thousands who received an invitation in their email late last week. <strong>Officials dismiss White House claims that there were people waiting to get into the event.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>We now have a president who travels with his own private cheering section and allows the press to film his events only from approved angles that hide this fact. People keep comparing Trump to Mussolini, but I'm beginning to think this might be unfair to Il Duce.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 23 Jan 2017 17:42:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 323776 at Even Republicans Don't Trust Republicans On Obamacare Replacement <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I missed this when it came out a few days ago, but here's the latest Fox poll on <a href="" target="_blank">what people want done with Obamacare:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_fox_poll_obamacare_2017_01_19.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Very few people want Obamacare repealed without something to replace it, and even fewer want it repealed without knowing exactly what kind of replacement Republicans have in mind. There's not a big partisan split on this, either. Among Republicans, 73 percent want Obamacare replaced with something new and 68 percent want to know what the replacement is before anything is repealed.</p> <p>Here's another interesting tidbit:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_fox_poll_trump_priorities_2017_01_19_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Even among Republicans, hardly anyone really cares about the wall. This suggests that it will be pretty easy for the wall to get forgotten in the shuffle as Republicans in Congress go about the stuff they really care about: cutting taxes on the rich and cutting benefits for everyone else.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 23 Jan 2017 16:51:43 +0000 Kevin Drum 323771 at Even Trump's Friends Think He's a Five-Year-Old <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><em>Politico</em> explains the infamous press event on Saturday, which was called for the sole purpose of berating the press for accurately reporting the size of <a href="" target="_blank">President Trump's inauguration crowd:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Trump's inauguration was largely an as-expected affair, and he sounded many of the right notes, said political observers, historians and people close to him. But news coverage soon fixated on the protesters across the country Saturday that far outnumbered his supporters the day before. <strong>Trump was increasingly angered by it,</strong> sending his press secretary out to fuzz up the situation and to <strong>brag about Trump&rsquo;s support,</strong> in the face of <strong>knowable facts that contradicted what he said about record crowd sizes. </strong></p> <p>....That Trump wanted Sean Spicer, the press secretary, to go out with props in the White House briefing room &mdash; two large pictures of the crowd &mdash; was trademark, people who know him say. <strong>Trump loves props. </strong></p> <p>One person who frequently talks to Trump said aides have to push back privately against his worst impulses in the White House, like the news conference idea, and <strong>have to control information that may infuriate him.</strong> He gets <strong>bored</strong> and <strong>likes to watch TV,</strong> this person said, so it is important to minimize that.</p> <p>This person said that a number of people close to him <strong>don't like saying no &mdash; but that it has to be done.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>How astonishing is this? This is coming from a putative friend and supporter, who's describing Trump exactly the way you'd describe a five-year-old. I hope you all liked the <em>Downfall</em> parody craze, because I have a feeling it's going to make a comeback.</p> <p><iframe align="middle" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 35px;" width="560"></iframe></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 23 Jan 2017 15:57:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 323766 at Today in Trump <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's Chuck Todd on <em>Meet the Press</em> this morning, asking White House "counselor" Kellyanne Conway why President Trump's press secretary started his first day in office by going out and lying repeatedly on national TV. Her answer: Sean Spicer was merely providing "alternative facts."</p> <p><iframe align="middle" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 35px;" width="560"></iframe></p> <p>I don't want to pick on Todd, who pressed Conway hard on this, but it was almost painful watching him try so hard to avoid using the obvious word here. Over and over, he wanted to ask why Spicer had lied, which would be the usual way of phrasing his question. On a couple of occasions he even stuttered a bit while he searched for another word. He just wouldn't say it. So what's the best response to Conway's dogged unwillingness to answer questions in even a debatably truthful way? I think Jamelle Bouie has it right:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">I increasingly believe that networks should refuse to have Conway on as long as she continues misleading the public. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) <a href="">January 22, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>There's a limit to how much TV networks should tolerate staffers who have a consistent history of viewing airtime merely as a way of promoting lies. Kellyanne Conway blew past that limit before Trump even took office. It's hard to see what the value of having her on a news show is at this point.</p> <p>In other developments, hold on to your jaw&mdash;or maybe your stomach&mdash;as you watch Trump blow a kiss to FBI Director James Comey and then give him a big hug:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Pres. Trump greets FBI Director James Comey during First Responders ceremony at the White House: "He's become more famous than me." <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; ABC News (@ABC) <a href="">January 22, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>Jeet Heer has the proper take on this:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Trump, unlike many others, isn't in denial about what happened. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) <a href="">January 22, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>Trump won because of Comey. Period. Without Comey's letter of October 28, Trump would have lost by 8 million popular votes and a few dozen electoral votes. And Comey knew exactly what he was doing. Published reports suggest that literally every single person he talked to advised him that writing his letter would be an unprecedented violation of rules against letting ongoing investigations interfere with elections.</p> <p>Finally, in other news from Kellyanne Conway, we learned officially what's been obvious for a long time: <a href="" target="_blank">Donald Trump is never going to release his tax returns.</a></p> <blockquote> <p>STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned a couple hundred thousand people who sent in petitions on health care, talking about health care, you also have more than 200,000 who petitioned the White House calling on President Trump to release his full tax returns with all information needed to verify emolument's clause compliance. Whenever 100,000 petition, that triggers a White House response. So, what is the White House response?</p> <p>CONWAY: The White House response is that he's not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn't care. They voted for him.</p> </blockquote> <p>The "audit" was just a ruse all along. I don't think that will surprise anyone with a room-temperature IQ, and I guess Trump decided to stop playing the game.</p> <p>1,458 days to go. I can hardly wait for the Spicer/Conway description of Trump's tax cuts and Trump's replacement for Obamacare.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 23 Jan 2017 00:15:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 323746 at On TV, Trump's Inauguration Was the Worst in 40 Years <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I guess we've moved on from crowd size at Trump's inauguration to <a href="" target="_blank">TV audience size.</a> Interestingly, Trump has apparently decided not to lie about this, but only to mislead. Just for the record, then, here's the share of the population that has tuned in to watch first-term inaugurations over the past 40 years:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_inauguration_tv_audience_table_1977_2017.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 100px;"></p> <p>Ratings <a href="" target="_blank">here.</a> January population <a href="" target="_blank">here.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 22 Jan 2017 18:07:19 +0000 Kevin Drum 323741 at Aziz Ansari Just Hit Donald Trump Hard In An Epic Saturday Night Live Monologue <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><iframe width="630" height="354" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe></body></html> Mixed Media Sun, 22 Jan 2017 06:02:30 +0000 Mother Jones New York Bureau 323736 at What Does It Take for the Press to Call a Lie a Lie? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Watching the inauguration yesterday, I saw the smallish crowds just like everyone else. My immediate thought was: <em>Oh God, this means tomorrow will be a 24/7 offensive from the White House about how this was the biggest inaugural crowd ever in history.</em> The boy king will demand no less.</p> <p>Sure enough, that's what we got. Trump went out to visit the CIA today and informed everyone that the inauguration crowd was <a href="" target="_blank">at least a million, maybe a million and a half.</a> Then he sent out his press secretary, Sean Spicer, to deliver an unprecedented screed, yelling at the assembled reporters about how dishonest they were and then spewing out a <a href="" target="_blank">whole array of fabricated numbers</a> to back up his boss's lies. When he was done, he turned on his heels and left without taking any questions.</p> <p>I'm not interested in pointless discussions of whether Trump does this stuff to distract us (in this case, from the massive number of people at the women's marches around the country). I suppose that's part of it. But it's obvious from decades of watching Trump that he simply can't abide any criticism, either express or implied. Everything he does has to be the biggest and best. He's incapable of not lashing out when anyone suggests otherwise.</p> <p>That's obvious enough to be banal at this point. What I'm more interested in is when the media is going to get over its faintheartedness and start calling this stuff what it is: lies. On CNN, Jim Sciutto reminded us that Trump frequently says things that "defy the facts." On the web, CNN wrote about Spicer's "misstatements of fact." The <em>New York Times</em> said Trump's crowd numbers were "false." Other newspapers said the same thing in different ways.</p> <p>But even by the strictest definition, Trump and Spicer were lying. Trump made up his numbers out of thin air, knowing perfectly well they were based on nothing. Spicer delivered a whole bunch of numbers that were obviously either invented or just plain fake&mdash;and did it in an angry tone that was clearly meant to intimidate everyone in the room.</p> <p>All of this stuff was not just "false," it was knowingly false. Everyone knows this. So let's cut out the delicate language and the earnest panel discussions about whether Spicer might have a point about one thing or another. He was lying. Trump was lying. Can't we be adults and just say so?</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Jim Sciutto is CNN's chief national security correspondent. He is not an MSNBC correspondent, as I originally wrote.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 22 Jan 2017 04:11:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 323726 at Friday Cat Blogging - 20 January 2017 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>That's it for the day. I plan to spend the rest of the weekend in deep contemplation. I hope I've left you with enough cats to get through the day.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2017_01_20_8.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 17:30:46 +0000 Kevin Drum 323651 at Inauguration Watch: Trump About to Begin Making America Great Again <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Trump's speech has so far had deliberate echoes of Lincoln (we are gathered here) and FDR (forgotten men and women). Now he's channeling Bill Clinton (their pain is our pain). Now Carter (I will never let you down). Now Reagan (we will shine for everyone to follow). Now himself (we will make America great again). Plus he included a very nice shout out to Sam Peckinpah (American carnage).</p> <p>It's time to climb a tree and pretend none of this is happening.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2017_01_20_6.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 17:19:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 323641 at Inauguration Watch: Donald Trump Is Now President of the United States <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Donald Trump is officially president of the United States. It is now time to commence hiding under blankets.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2017_01_20_5.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 17:02:27 +0000 Kevin Drum 323636 at Inauguration Watch: Mike Pence Is Now Vice President <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Mike Pence is now officially vice president of the United States. This totally deserves another cat.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2017_01_20_4.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 16:56:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 323631 at Inauguration Watch: Four Years of Trump Won't Be Any Worse Than the Civil War <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Chuck Schumer says we're celebrating the peaceful transfer of power today. Then more blather. Now he's rather obviously implying that four years of Donald Trump probably won't be any worse than the four years of the Civil War. We survived that, so hey, we'll get through Trump too.</p> <p>I think that deserves another cat.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2017_01_20_2.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 16:53:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 323626 at Inauguration Watch: Three Trump Aides Under Investigation For Russia Ties <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>We're less than an hour away from inaugurating Donald Trump as president, <a href="" target="_blank">and this is what's on the front page of the <em>New York Times</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.</p> <p>....As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts....Of the half-dozen current and former officials who confirmed the existence of the investigations, some said they were providing information because they feared the new administration would obstruct their efforts. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the cases.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is unreal. Surely it deserves a cat to take our minds off what's about to happen?</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2017_01_20_1.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 16:29:01 +0000 Kevin Drum 323621 at Steven Mnuchin Just Doesn't Understand <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">This is adorable:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>When Steven Mnuchin, Donald Trump&rsquo;s pick for secretary of the Treasury, was asked about tax reform in his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, he took things in a surprising direction: He suggested that the IRS needed a larger staff.</p> <p><strong>&ldquo;I was particularly surprised, looking at the IRS numbers, that the IRS headcount has gone down quite dramatically, almost 30 percent over the last number of years,&rdquo;</strong> Mnuchin said in response to a question from Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican....&ldquo;Now perhaps the IRS just started with way too many people,&rdquo; Mnuchin added. But he suggested that &ldquo;staffing of the IRS is an important part of fixing the tax gap.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>That's, um, surprising, all right. Yessir, Mr. Mnuchin. Very surprising indeed.</p> <p>For those of you who don't get the joke, this is sort of like Mnuchin testifying in front of a bunch of mafia dons and expressing surprise that they charge such high interest rates in their lending operation. Maybe with lower rates you gentlemen could expand into the suburban market and gain a share of the home equity business? Lotta kitchen remodels out there.</p> <p>Basically, Mnuchin looked at the IRS numbers like a normal person and was surprised to see that they weren't trying to maximize tax collections. He apparently didn't realize that the Republicans he was testifying in front of have been <a href="" target="_blank">very deliberately slashing the IRS budget</a> for years precisely so they <em>can't</em> maximize tax collections. The last thing Republicans want is an IRS that audits rich people more closely.</p> <p>Mnuchin will learn. After all, Donald Trump did. Remember when Trump suggested that women who get abortions should be punished? He had no idea what he was talking about, and just assumed that since Republicans consider abortion bad, the maximal anti-abortion position must be good. He didn't realize that jailing middle-class teenagers is a position unpopular enough to jeopardize GOP reelection prospects, and as a result Republicans have long insisted that even if they manage to make abortion illegal, they will always consider women who get abortions to be "victims" of unscrupulous butchers, not lawbreakers. That's the party line, anyway, and everyone is expected to know it.</p> <p>Before long, I'm sure Mnuchin will learn to listen respectfully to harangues about the gold standard and fiat money and ending the Fed. It's a small price to pay for the opportunity to occupy the position once held by Alexander Hamilton.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 02:52:37 +0000 Kevin Drum 323601 at John Cornyn Promised . . . Absolutely Nothing Today <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Sen. John Cornyn, the #2 Republican leader in the Senate, took some questions today about the GOP replacement for Obamacare.&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">TPM's Lauren Fox reports:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>When Cornyn was asked if he was concerned about people who've benefited from Medicaid expansion losing coverage, he said it was a shared concern. "We're all concerned, but it ain't going to happen," Cornyn said. "Will you write that down... It ain't gonna happen."</p> <p>Reporters followed up. "You're saying nobody's going to lose coverage?" one asked. "Nobody's going to lose coverage," Cornyn said. <strong>"Obviously, people covered today will continue to be covered. And, the hope is we'll expand access. Right now 30 million people are not covered under Obamacare."</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>When you're dealing with Republicans and health care, you have to be mighty careful. Cornyn <em>didn't</em> say that people covered by Medicaid would continue to be covered <em>by Medicaid</em>. He just said they'd be "covered." This could mean anything. It could mean giving the poor a $1,000 refundable tax credit they can use toward buying coverage on the open market, which would be useless. It could mean giving the poor access to tax-favored HSAs and catastrophic coverage, which would also be useless. It could mean keeping them on Medicaid but instituting a 50 percent copay to make sure they have "skin in the game."</p> <p>Reporters need to step up their game. If they're going to ask about stuff like this, they have to demand enough detail for the answer to mean something. Cornyn may <em>sound</em> like he promised something here, but he didn't. And I assure you he chose his words very carefully.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 00:23:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 323596 at Thanks For Everything, President Obama. We're Going to Miss You. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>It's less than 24 hours until Barack Obama leaves the White House. In eight years, here's my top ten list of what he accomplished:</p> <ol><li>Affordable Care Act</li> <li>Stimulus package</li> <li>Climate actions: Paris agreement, EPA power plant standards, auto mileage standards, etc.</li> <li>Dodd-Frank financial reform</li> <li>Iran nuclear treaty</li> <li>Killed Osama bin Laden</li> <li>Allowed gays to serve openly in the military</li> <li>New START treaty</li> <li>Delivered 74 consecutive months of job growth</li> <li>Declined to get seriously involved in Syria</li> </ol><p>I'm keenly aware of all the criticisms you can make of this list: the stimulus wasn't big enough; Dodd-Frank didn't go far enough; Obamacare doesn't have a public option; cap-and-trade failed; the surveillance state became permanent; there was no help for underwater homeowners; there are still troops in Iraq and Afghanistan; and so forth. These are all legit. Nonetheless, if you compare this list to other presidents of the past century, there aren't more than three or four who can match it. Here in the real world, that's pretty good.</p> <p>On foreign affairs, Obama got better as he spent more time in office. In 2009 he approved a huge surge of troops into a hopeless fight in Afghanistan. In 2011, he resisted intervening in Libya but eventually agreed to a middling-size offensive. Finally, by 2013, he had learned his lesson and simply refused to allow more than a modest bit of engagement in Syria. And thank God for that. If we had committed seriously to Syria, we'd be fighting a massive two-front war there to this day. Anybody who thinks otherwise is just not paying attention.</p> <p>In the end, Obama wasn't a transformative president. But that's a high bar: in my book, FDR and Reagan are the only presidents of the past century who qualify. Still, Obama turned the battleship a few degrees more than most presidents, and we're all better off for it. He also brought a certain amount of grace and civility to the White House, as well as a genuine willingness to work across the aisle. In the event, that turned out to be futile, because Republicans had already decided to oppose everything he did sight unseen. But he did try.</p> <p>I don't know how much of his legacy will survive. A fair amount, I think, since repealing things like Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and the Iran treaty are harder than they look. But some of it will fade or evaporate in the Trump era. And Obama was never able to make any headway against the anger that festers in the hearts of so many Americans toward the poor, the non-white, the non-male, the non-straight, and the non-Christian. Now this anger will guide our next four years. I miss him already, the best president of my lifetime.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 Jan 2017 20:22:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 323571 at Report: Trump Team Wants to Slash Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Everything Else Except Defense <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's the latest news on squeezing our bloated government <a href="" target="_blank">down to size:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Donald Trump is ready to take an ax to government spending. Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday&rsquo;s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy, <em>The Hill</em> has learned....Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump&rsquo;s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is terrifying, of course, but it's also puzzling. $10.5 trillion over ten years? That's a trillion dollars a year. If you eliminated the domestic discretionary budget entirely, you'd only save half a trillion bucks. So how do they do it?</p> <p>Well, we're told that the proposed budget cuts "hew closely" to a recent <a href="" target="_blank">Heritage Foundation report,</a> so I went and took a look. The answer, of course, is that the only way to cut that kind of money is to take a meat axe to everything, including Social Security and Medicare. Here's a chart:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_heritage_budget_cuts.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Let's break this down. How does Heritage manage these whopping cuts? According to a modest little footnote in the appendix on page 165, here's the answer:</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Medicaid:</strong> No details. There will be a spending cap, and all mandatory spending will somehow be cut to fit.</p> <p><strong>Medicare:</strong> Increase eligibility age, add a "temporary" premium for Part A, increase premiums for Parts B and D, phase out subsidies for seniors with "significant" income, "reform" cost-sharing arrangements, transition to <strike>vouchers</strike> premium support starting in 2021.</p> <p><strong>Domestic Discretionary:</strong> Magic spending cap.</p> <p><strong>Social Security:</strong> Increase retirement age, index retirement age so it keeps going up, reduce benefits by adopting chained CPI for inflation adjustments, and "transition the payment to a flat, anti-poverty benefit focused on individuals who need it most," whatever that means.</p> </blockquote> <p>In fairness, there's a bit more detail on the domestic discretionary side. Actually, a mountain of detail: over the course of 140 pages, Heritage recommends cuts to over a hundred programs. These include catfish programs, the Ex-Im bank, climate programs, Amtrak, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc. etc. Cutting all this stuff might be harder than they expect, since some senator somewhere probably thinks very highly of the USDA Catfish Inspection Program, but I guess they can try. In any case, about 80 percent of the savings come from a small number of programs:</p> <ul><li>Energy subsidies: $28 billion</li> <li>Land and Water Conservation Fund: $20 billion</li> <li>Various HHS/HUD jobs program: $10 billion</li> <li>Davis-Bacon: $9 billion</li> <li>Federal Transit Administration: $4 billion</li> <li>Nine climate programs: $4 billion</li> <li>Military health care: $4 billion</li> </ul><p>So there you have it. Slash a bunch of hippy-dippy stuff (clean energy, water conservation, transit, climate); some employment stuff (jobs programs, Davis-Bacon); and military health care spending. Then take a meat axe to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and everything else, and you're done! Piece of cake.</p> <p>Perhaps someone should start asking our president-elect if he's on board with this stuff.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 Jan 2017 18:39:20 +0000 Kevin Drum 323556 at Steven Mnuchin Forgot $95 Million In His Financial Disclosure Forms <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Donald Trump's nominee for Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, has revised his <a href=";utm_term=.33fe510d4352" target="_blank">financial disclosure form:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>According to the memo, Mnuchin submitted answers Dec. 19 to a standard committee questionnaire seeking information about his financial and business interests. At the time, Mnuchin verified that those responses were accurate and complete.</p> <p>However, Mnuchin had left out <strong>$95 million in real estate</strong> from his initial disclosures, according to the memo....Mnuchin also at first failed to disclose his role as <strong>director of Dune Capital International,</strong> which is incorporated in the Cayman Islands, the document shows.</p> <p>....According to the memo, <strong>Mnuchin characterized the missing information as inadvertent mistakes,</strong> and he updated his answers to the committee&rsquo;s questionnaire on Saturday, less than a week before his hearing.</p> </blockquote> <p>Huh. Mnuchin's earlier disclosure form revealed a net worth around $400 million, far higher than the earlier consensus estimate of $40 million. I guess when you're worth that much, it's easy to forget that your four homes (in Los Angeles, England, and two in New York) are worth another $95 million. It could happen to anyone.</p> <p>Anyway, the bottom line is that Mnuchin is actually worth about half a billion dollars, which makes a lot more sense for a Goldman Sachs/hedge fund lifer. The previous estimates of his net worth always struck me as surprisingly paltry.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 Jan 2017 15:59:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 323536 at Trump and the Strong Dollar: A One-Day Follow-Up <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Yesterday</a> the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> blared the news that Donald Trump's comments on the dollar being too strong had sent the dollar "reeling." I suggested we might want to wait a few days before buying into this, but it turns out I was wrong. We only had to wait one day:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_wsj_dollar_index_yesterday_today.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>This follows the usual formula: (a) Trump says something, (b) a related financial index reacts instantly, and (c) by the next day everything is back to normal. I gather that there are folks on Wall Street who are writing algorithms to make money off this dynamic, but it's unclear how long that can last. I mean, how many times can this happen before everyone realizes that Trump's blather doesn't really mean anything?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 Jan 2017 04:30:02 +0000 Kevin Drum 323526 at Final Swamp Watch - 17 January 2017 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Despite weeks of effort, Donald Trump was apparently unable to find a Hispanic to serve as Secretary of Agriculture. Was this because no Hispanics were willing to join his administration? Or was it because Trump just couldn't build any kind of personal rapport with any of the Hispanics who came to Trump Tower to visit with him? We'll never know.</p> <p>Instead, <a href="" target="_blank">our new Agriculture Secretary will be Sonny Perdue,</a> the man who won election as governor of Georgia in 2003 by promising to let residents vote on a flag referendum that would allow them to return the Confederate battle cross to a central position in the state flag. In the end, the Democratic legislature refused to allow this, and instead compromised on a flag that ditched the rebel cross but included the Confederate Stars and Bars&mdash;something that most people don't really recognize, but which kinda sorta appeased the <strike>racist</strike> Southern heritage faction of the Peach State.</p> <p>I'm sure this appealed to Trump, and Perdue <em>does</em> have some agricultural experience&mdash;that is, assuming you count the fact that he runs a "global trading company that facilitates U.S. commerce focusing on the export of U.S. goods and services...such as blueberries, grains, onions, peanuts, pecans, soybeans, and spinach." He's probably done pretty well for himself in this business, allowing him to join his brother, Sen. David Perdue, in the rich man's club.</p> <p>Anyway, that's it. Until and unless someone pulls out or is rejected by the Senate, Trump has now named his nominees for every cabinet-level position. As you can see, he tangled with the swamp, and the swamp won.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trump_cabinet_2017_01_17.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 Jan 2017 02:21:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 323521 at Health Care Is All About the Benjamins <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Sherri Underwood, a Midwestern woman in her mid-50s, writes that she voted for Donald Trump <a href="" target="_blank">but now regrets it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Most of my decision came down to my poor experience with Obamacare.</strong> In the &rsquo;90s, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic illness that causes fatigue, memory loss, physical aches, and soreness....I eventually was unable to work at all. I lost employer-based health insurance when I left the workforce and had to pay my health care costs out of pocket.</p> <p>When Obamacare first came into effect, I was excited to get what I thought would be financial help with my costly medicine and treatments. <strong>But [my husband&rsquo;s salary] put me in an earning bracket too high to qualify for any financial assistance....I&rsquo;m left with a premium of $893,</strong> so high that I can no longer afford the cost of my medicines and treatments on top of the monthly premiums.</p> <p>....<strong>In the end, I voted for Trump because he promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, and that was the most important issue to my own life.</strong> Looking back, I realize what a mistake it was. I ignored the pundits who repeated over and over again that he would not follow through on his promises, thinking they were spewing hysterics for better ratings. Sitting on my couch, my mouth agape at the words coming out his mouth on the TV before me, I realized just how wrong I was.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is so depressing. Underwood's general problem is that she's decided Trump is not a man who will carry out his promises, so now she doesn't believe he's going to improve Obamacare. Fine. But what Underwood never understood is that even if Trump <em>did</em> carry out his promises, she'd still be worse off. Although Underwood may not have qualified for a subsidy, she did benefit from the fact that Obamacare allows a maximum premium ratio of 3:1 between old people and young people. Trump and other Republicans think this ought to be 5:1. If it were, Underwood's premium would be over $1,000. Obamacare probably saved her something in the neighborhood of $2,000 per year.</p> <p>Plus Obamacare allowed her to get insurance in the first place. Until it took effect, no one would cover her.</p> <p>Lots of people have benefited considerably from Obamacare, but not everyone. Underwood found herself in the worst possible position: old enough to have a high premium but well-off enough that she didn't qualify for assistance. So she was gobsmacked when she discovered just how much health care costs in America. Most people have no real clue about this, but per-capita health care spending in the bloated US system is over $10,000 per year for someone 55 years old. That means insurance premiums are going to be $10,000+ per year too. There's just no getting around this.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_healthcare_spending_per_capita_oecd_2015.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>If Republicans want to cover people like Underwood, they're going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. If they want to reduce deductibles, they're going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. If they want to increase subsidies for the middle class, they're going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. This is an iron law, and no amount of blather about state lines or tort reform or anything else changes it more than minutely. But Republicans want to spend less, not more. Even if Trump had been sincere, there was never any chance that Underwood would do better under his plan than under Obamacare.</p> <p>It all comes down to money. Ignore the rest of the chaff. If you think national health care should be better, it means spending more money. Period.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 Jan 2017 01:28:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 323511 at Six Agencies Are Investigating Trump-Russia Ties <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>McClatchy has the latest on the investigation into <a href="" target="_blank">ties between Russia and the Trump team:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election....<strong>The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department&rsquo;s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence,</strong> the sources said.</p> <p>....One of the allegations involves whether <strong>a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners</strong> may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said....A key mission of the six-agency group has been to examine <strong>who financed the email hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.</strong></p> <p>....The working group is scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump&rsquo;s campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections, the sources said.</p> <p>....<strong>The BBC reported that the FBI had obtained a warrant on Oct. 15</strong> from the highly secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing investigators access to bank records and other documents about potential payments and money transfers related to Russia. <strong>One of McClatchy&rsquo;s sources confirmed the report.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>That's an awful lot of agencies investigating an awful lot of allegations against an awful lot of people. And as the article says, you can't get a warrant unless you can demonstrate at least some kind of plausible probable cause. That means these folks are working off a lot more than just the famous dossier produced by the ex-MI6 spy.</p> <p>At this point, I flatly don't know what I believe anymore. This is all crazy stuff, but a whole bunch of investigators don't seem to be treating it as crazy. Either way, though, the guy at the center of all this is going to become president of the United States in two days.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 18 Jan 2017 20:16:56 +0000 Kevin Drum 323491 at