• Roger Stone Gets 40-Month Prison Sentence

    Win McNamee/Getty Image

    After originally asking for a 7-9 year sentence for presidential pal and longtime Republican ratfucker¹ Roger Stone, Attorney General Bill Barr intervened in the case and sent in a new prosecutor who recommended 3-4 years instead.² Today, judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Stone to . . . 3-4 years:

    In a lengthy speech before imposing the penalty, Jackson seemed to take aim at Trump — saying Stone “was not prosecuted for standing up for the president; he was prosecuted for covering up for the president.” She also appeared to call out Attorney General William P. Barr, whose intervention to reduce career prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation she called “unprecedented.” But she said the politics surrounding the case had not influenced her final decision.

    ….Jackson made clear she thought Stone’s crimes were serious. She called his testimony “plainly false” and “a flat-out lie,” and said his misdirection “shut out important avenues” for Congress to investigate. She said Stone knew “it could reflect badly on president if someone learned” about his efforts to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton, who was then running against Trump to be president, from the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

    It’s not over, of course. Stone insists that he deserves a new trial and President Trump insists that Stone has been railroaded from the start. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that none of this sticks and Stone is unable to earn an appeal either. So it’s 40 months in prison unless his friend in the Oval Office pardons him.

    ¹This is a term of art: “Stone’s specialty is being a ‘ratfucker’—a practitioner of dark arts avoided by most mainstream politicians and consultants,” Will Greenberg wrote for us a few years ago. Stone himself embraces the term “dirty trickster,” but “hasn’t been so eager to embrace another, more profane Nixon-era label with which he’s often tagged: ‘ratfucker,’ or a political operator who engages in roguish behind-the-scenes behavior to undermine rivals,” wrote Ben Zimmer in Politico last year. “He’s inexorably linked to the term, even if he doesn’t like it.”

    ²“Recommended” might be going too far. The revised sentencing memo was unusually mushy, so it might be more accurate to say that it “implied” a 3-4 year sentence.

  • Household Debt Remains Startlingly Low

    Household debt has hit yet another record. Should we be worried?

    Michael Strain says no, and I agree. This time, though, it’s more than my usual gripe about not adjusting for inflation. The thing to look at isn’t raw debt in the first place, but how much it’s affecting family finances:

    The average family is spending less than 10 percent of its income on debt payments. This is the lowest it’s been since the Fed started tracking it. So not only is there nothing to worry about, you can even make a case that household debt ought to be a little higher than it is.

  • Trump Administration Finally Admits the Economy Isn’t Booming

    Here’s an unexpected jolt of reality from the Trump administration:

    President Trump’s top economists predict the U.S. economy will not grow at a rate of 3 percent or higher this year unless Congress enacts a major infrastructure package and additional tax cuts….In the annual Economic Report of the President released on Thursday, Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers predicts that if the president and Congress do not make further policy changes, the U.S. economy will grow at a 2.4 percent annual pace this year and at a 2.3 percent pace in 2021. That kind of growth is well below what Trump promised and similar to what occurred under President Barack Obama.

    In other words, the economy is going to continue growing at about the same steady rate it’s been growing for the past decade. The nonsensical projections of 3+ percent growth that the Trumpies made in order to get elected were just that: nonsensical. Or, in the usual vernacular, they were lies. It’s not as if Trump’s economists haven’t known this all along, after all.

    As for Trump himself, he hasn’t commented yet. When he does, I suppose he’ll whine yet again about how the mean old Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates too high. You may judge for yourself:

  • Mike Bloomberg Either Won or Lost Tonight

    If my Twitter feed is any indication, the unanimous opinion of everyone on the planet is that Mike Bloomberg got completely thrashed in the debate tonight. Conversely, I thought he came through OK. He took a ton of hits, but he mostly swatted them away without suffering a lot of damage.

    So what really happened? Is lefty Twitter totally out of touch? Am I reading mostly stuff from partisans? Or have I wildly underestimated how brutal the attacks on Bloomberg were? I am now genuinely curious to see how the conventional wisdom congeals over the next week or so.

  • Liveblogging the Vegas Debate

    NBC News

    Obviously the big addition to this debate was Mike Bloomberg. So how did he do?

    My take is that he did fine. I don’t think he blew anybody away, but the attacks on him were so scattered that he mostly came through them unscathed. That’s really all he needed: to look like a plausible candidate without so much baggage that he had no chance of winning.

    Elizabeth Warren struck me as sounding a little desperate tonight. Amy Klobuchar spent too much time getting into fights without coming out a clear winner. Joe Biden was more strident than he was in the last debate, and I doubt it did him any good. Bernie Sanders took a couple of hits, and for a brief moment I think we saw a preview of what the attacks on him might look like in a general election. His fellow liberals generally don’t attack his socialist past much, but Bloomberg did and, I think, did some damage even with just a minute or two to do it.

    So who won and who lost? I’d say Bloomberg clearly won, simply by seeming credible and not taking so much fire that he melted down. Sanders might have swayed a few people, but he also might have lost a few. Buttigieg’s approach may not appeal to me, but it’s possible that he gained support by seeming above the fray and always in control of himself.

    The Nevada caucus is on Saturday! Stay tuned.

    Mike Bloomberg speaks!

    10:53 pm – I’m not sure why, but this debate has really hammered home how tired I am of Pete Buttigieg’s speaking style.

    10:52 pm – Closing statements. Bloomberg says, “This is a management job.” He’s said this before. Is it a good line? Regardless of whether it’s correct, I’m not so sure. Most people don’t think of the presidency as merely a “management” job.

    10:47 pm – Commercial break!

    10:46 pm – Chuck Todd wants to know if the candidate with a plurality should automatically win the nomination. Nobody thinks so except for the one guy who’s most likely to have a plurality. (That would be Bernie Sanders.) Everyone else wants to keep the rules we started with.

    10:44 pm – Klobuchar to Buttigieg: “You haven’t been in the arena. You’ve just memorized a bunch of talking points.” Buttigieg responds with his usual faux outrage about somebody allegedly dissing small-town mayors

    10:39 pm – Why is the word “actually” so popular among candidates who are on a debate stage? The context is always “I actually supported _____ ,” meaning that it’s something they supported in the past, not a flip-flop of some kind. But it comes across as “Isn’t that a surprise?!?”

    10:36 pm – Bloomberg seems like he thinks everyone else on the stage is just unbearably naive.

    10:32 pm – Commercial break! Hey, I didn’t know this debate was being held at the Paris hotel. That’s where I stayed on my little trip to Arizona last month. Here’s a picture from the window of my room:

    10:29 pm – Sanders is taking more hits than Bloomberg. This makes sense. Bloomberg might be rich, but Sanders is the frontrunner.

    10:26 pm – With the conversation now focused on taxes and socialism, Bloomberg seems to have perked up. He’s in his element.

    10:25 pm – Bloomberg on Sanders: “Our leading socialist is a millionaire with three homes.” This actually seems to have brought Sanders up short.

    10:22 pm – Bloomberg: The fastest way to re-elect Trump is to have this conversation. “It’s ridiculous. We’re not going to get rid of capitalism. We tried that, other countries tried that. It’s called communism and it didn’t work.” The stage fills with groans.

    10:20 pm – Sanders unwinds on billionaires. Nobody should make that much money when there are so many poor people around. Chuck Todd asks Bloomberg if he deserves all the money he made? “Yes. I worked hard for it.”

    10:17 pm – Bloomberg goes after Sanders for complaining about taxes: “Who wrote the tax code?”

    10:16 pm – Question for Bloomberg: did the end of redlining bring on the Great Recession? That’s a dumb question that completely lets Bloomberg off the hook for what he actually said.

    10:13 pm – Biden’s new slogan for addressing climate change: No more coal from Mongolia! Okey doke.

    10:12 pm – Warren decides she has to bring up environmental justice. Sure. This has zero to do with addressing climate change, but I suppose it’s good for Warren.

    10:10 pm – Now Buttigieg weighs in with a bunch of yada yada about climate change.

    10:09 pm – Bloomberg wants to sound the alarm on climate change, but his flat affect destroys his message. He sure doesn’t sound very alarmed.

    10:06 pm – I get that Vanessa Hauc thinks she’s being aggressive with her follow-ups, but she’s really just being argumentative.

    10:04 pm – Warren asks why we can’t get climate bills passed. She provides two reasons: corruption and the filibuster. That is . . . not a very sophisticated argument.

    10:01 pm – Warren says her plan for climate change is to “increase by ten-fold our investment in science…most of the stuff we need hasn’t been invented yet.” Hooray! Maybe she read the current cover story in Mother Jones?

    9:57 pm – Bloomberg gets a chance to brag about closing coal plants. This is strong ground for him.

    9:52 – Commercial break! Man, things started off hot and they’ve stayed hot. It’s pretty obvious that everyone understands there’s not much time left in this campaign. My take so far is that Bloomberg has come through unscathed. The rest of the field is spending so much time interrupting each other that no one has been able to mount a sustained attack on him.

    9:49 pm – Klobuchar gets a question about not knowing the name of the president of Mexico. Buttigieg goes after her hard. The moderators try to move on, but Warren jumps in to defend Klobuchar. Biden closes things off to say that not only does he know the Mexican president’s name, he’s the only person on the stage who’s actually met with him.

    9:45 pm – Bloomberg supported George W. Bush! Bloomberg opposed an increase in the minimum wage! By spraying all the criticisms of Bloomberg across a single ten-minute period they’ve really let him off the hook. Bloomberg has produced quickie answers to all of them and now it’s over.

    9:44 pm – Biden is being even more aggressive than in the last debate. I thought that was probably a good strategy, but the poll numbers sure didn’t back me up. We’ll see how it works this time.

    9:43 pm – Will Bloomberg release everyone from their NDAs? Nope.

    9:40 pm – Is Bloomberg a misogynistic jerk? Suddenly all of Bloomberg’s weak points are being brought up at once.

    9:38 pm – Why hasn’t Bloomberg released his tax returns? Bloomberg: I make a lot of money all over the world, so it takes a while. This actually seems fair.

    9:34 pm – So far I don’t think anyone has really dented Bloomberg much. At the same time, Bloomberg has mostly just defended himself in a fairly dull monotone. That’s safe, I suppose, but not likely to broaden his support.

    9:30 pm – Here are stop-and-frisk stats courtesy of the New York ACLU:

    Incidents went down in Bloomberg’s final year in office by 75 percent, but as Biden said, this was under pressure from the Justice Department. UPDATE: The reduction came after a judge approved a class-action suit in 2012.

    9:27 pm – Stop and frisk! Bloomberg says it’s the one thing he’s embarrassed about from his term in office. “It got out of control.” But then he cut it by 95 percent. I’m pretty sure that’s completely bogus….

    9:25 pm – Bloomberg finally gets a question: Is he a fan of Obamacare? He tries to claim that, in fact, he was in favor of it at the time.

    9:20 pm – Sheesh. Everyone is too busy taking shots at each other to take shots at Bloomberg.

    9:18 pm – Warren takes a big shot at Buttigieg’s health care plan: “It’s a PowerPoint, not a plan.”

    9:10 pm – Well, this debate is starting out on a spirited note.

    9:09 pm – Sanders gets pissed.

    9:08 pm – Buttigieg: In a couple of weeks we could find ourselves stuck with one candidate who wants to burn this party down, and another who wants to buy it.

    9:06 pm – Biden says no, he’s the guy to beat Trump.

    9:05 pm – Bloomberg: I’m a mayor, I’m a manager, I’m a philanthropist. Beat Trump!

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This is Horseshoe Bend, a famous 360-degree turn in the Colorado River near Page, Arizona. It costs ten dollars to get in, and I spent $30 so that I could see it three times: in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening. In the morning and the afternoon the shadows are pretty heavy this time of year, but in the evening you can get a good shot as long as you use a tripod and set a fairly long shutter speed.

    This picture is a 4-segment panorama taken a few minutes after sundown. It took a fair amount of effort to get Photoshop to stitch this into a single image properly, but eventually everything came together. At the bottom center you can see a group of rafters who had stopped for the evening to camp at the base of the rock.

    I’ve been playing around with converting some of my Arizona pictures to black and white. I’ve never been especially good at this, but Arizona provides a pretty good backdrop for practice. The black-and-white version of Horseshoe Bend is at the bottom.

    January 26, 2020 — Page, Arizona
  • The Era of Medical and Financial Transparency Is Probably Over

    Two weeks after his heart attack Bernie looked fine. I guess there's no point in digging any further, is there?Corine Sciboz/ZUMA

    In 2016 Donald Trump refused to release his income tax records even though (a) he had promised to do so, and (b) he’s a real estate billionaire, the exact kind of person whose financial history is especially salient in a presidential election. This paid off: no one really cared, apparently, and Trump became president. The price of concealing his financial history was smaller than the price he would have paid for whatever that history would have shown.

    This year, Bernie Sanders has refused to release his medical records even though (a) he promised to do so, and (b) he’s 78 years old and recently had a heart attack, making him the exact kind of person whose medical history is especially salient in a presidential election. Will this pay off? It seems like it: Sanders is soaring in the polls. The price of concealing his medical history is—in his estimation, anyway—smaller than the price he’d pay for whatever his medical history shows.

    Presidential candidates are finally learning that releasing records of any kind is all downside. If the records show that everything is OK, no one cares and it buys you nothing. But if the records show a problem, it could blow your candidacy to pieces. There is literally no reason to do it unless there’s a big price to be paid for keeping things under wrap. But guess what? There isn’t.

  • Assange Lawyer: Trump Offered Us a Deal

    Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire via ZUMA

    Um, what?

    President Trump offered to pardon Julian Assange if he agreed to cover up the involvement of Russia in hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee, which were later published by WikiLeaks, a London court was told on Wednesday….Edward Fitzgerald, Assange’s lawyer, said on Wednesday that a message had been passed on to Assange by former Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher…[It showed] “Mr Rohrabacher going to see Mr Assange and saying, on instructions from the president, he was offering a pardon or some other way out, if Mr Assange… said Russia had nothing to do with the DNC leaks.”

    Since this involves Trump and Dana Rohrabacher, I suppose it’s plausible no matter how crazy it seems. And apparently the judge in Assange’s extradition hearing agrees: she thought it plausible enough to rule it admissible.

    Stay tuned, I guess. Though even if Assange somehow produced video evidence of Trump and Rohrabacher conspiring about this in the Oval Office, I have a feeling Republicans would just shrug and say that the president’s pardon power is absolute. So, you know, he did nothing wrong.

  • Bernie Opens Up a Big Lead

    In its latest poll, the Washington Post reports that Bernie Sanders is now in a commanding lead nationally:

    The poll underscores how quickly support for candidates can change in national polls on the strength of results from individual primaries and caucuses. The findings come on the day of a Democratic debate in Las Vegas that will include Bloomberg on the stage for the first time and represents a high-stakes gamble for all the candidates.

    This has not always been true, but it’s been true for a long time. IIRC, Bill Clinton was the last person to build a lead slowly, back in 1992. Since then, you either win early or you go home.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This is last night’s occultation of Mars by the moon. This was the best picture I got, taken two minutes after Mars came out from behind the moon. I added the gray circle to show where the disk of the moon would be if you could see it.

    I had a better picture in mind for you, but I was sadly defeated by a big ol’ fog bank that covered the entire sky within 50 miles of my house. I went home with my tail between my legs, but by 4:29 am, when the occultation ended, there was a break in the clouds and I could see the moon from my backyard. There was still a slight haze, but both moon and Mars ended up tolerably sharp anyway.

    Note that this is a composite photo. The moon required a very different exposure than Mars, so I took two identical pictures with different exposures and then stitched them together.

    February 18, 2020 — Irvine, California