• We Need to Figure Out How to Fight Weaponized Disinformation

    As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we’re raising money for a new team to fight disinformation here at Mother Jones. Our fundraising drive is nearly over, so I wanted to make one more pitch for contributions.

    I think that conventional wisdom says that fundraising appeals should either be scary or hopeful, but I can’t honestly do either one right now. I’ve been blogging for 15 years, and there’s never been a day when I wanted to stop. That includes all the George Bush years, all the obstruction years, and even last year. But it’s getting harder. Donald Trump has really gotten to me.

    Atrios likes to remind us that George Bush was a worse president than Trump. Technically, that’s true: he launched a stupid war that killed thousands of people and probably prevented us from winning the war in Afghanistan that we really needed to win. Trump hasn’t done that yet—though he might, given time.

    But there’s more to a president than that. There’s also the content of his character. I will never let Bush off the hook for approving the torture of enemy combatants, but at least he had the excuse of doing it right after 9/11 and the decency of being kind of embarrassed about it (thus the euphemisms). Trump, by contrast, considers it “strong” to loudly and proudly support torture—and the worse the better. Bush also wasn’t racist, something he demonstrated a number of times. Trump appeals to the worst kind of racist and xenophobic sentiment, and he’s dragged the entire Republican Party along with him. Bush lied like any other politician when he needed to, but Trump casually lies about everything just for the hell of it. He’s also ignorant, deliberately nasty, and has based nearly his entire presidency on taking revenge against Barack Obama. I could go on.

    This makes Trump far worse to take on a daily basis. It’s one thing to understand that writing an analytic blog doesn’t really have much chance of changing things, but it’s another to live with a president who has simply made facts irrelevant. What’s the point of refuting lies that everyone knows are lies and no one even bothers defending in the first place?

    This is why I’m actually pretty excited by the idea of a disinformation team. My style of blogging isn’t well suited to the Trump era, and it’s obvious that the mainstream media is almost completely hamstrung in dealing with it. We need something new, and I hope this team comes up with it. Not snark, not PolitFact, and not reams of charts. Something better. But we can only do this if we get the money to get this team going. And there’s nothing that would make me happier than for my audience to pitch in bigly for this effort. You contributed $14,000 last time I asked. How about another $14,000?

    Click here to make a tax-deductible donation. We hope to raise $350,000 before June 30—$250,000 to meet our budget, and an extra $100,000 to get this special project off the ground. There’s no better cause. Or, if money is tight, click here to find out other ways you can help.

    And here’s your reward: a cat that I photographed in Los Angeles last night at the corner of Eagle and Clarence. He is watching to make sure you donate something.

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 22 June 2018

    Meet Professor Marc’s cats. They are both majestic Siberian furballs who like to chase down toys. Last weekend, while I was playing with them, Moloko (on the right) retreated across the living room to get a wider view of things. Then Mocha wandered in and plonked down in front to check things out. For a few moments, they looked as if they were posing for an official photo in Buckingham Palace. I’m honestly not sure I’ve seen anything more regal looking in my life. A crown would just ruin it. Only humans need all that regalia.

  • There’s No Need to Feel Sorry for Retiring Boomers

    Conventional wisdom says that we baby boomers have gotten all the goodies and left nothing for future generations. Today, the Wall Street Journal says this isn’t true: boomers in their golden years are totally screwed—and they present boomer retirement in apocalyptic terms:

    Americans entering retirement are in worse financial shape than the prior generation, for the first time since Harry Truman was president…. median incomes [] haven’t risen…. high average debt…. paltry 401(k) retirement funds…. 40% of households headed by people aged 55 through 70 lack sufficient resources to maintain their living standard in retirement…. Things are likely to get worse…. Individuals will find themselves staying on the job past 70 or taking menial jobs as senior citizens…. portends a drain on public resources…. “This generation,” said Alicia Munnell, director of the Boston College Center for Retirement Research, “was left on their own like no other generation before.”

    The Journal has a few anecdotes from struggling seniors, along with a scattering of charts from a bunch of different sources. But most of the charts don’t directly tell you anything about boomer retirement. I’m here to fill the gap. The following charts come from the Social Security Administration’s MINT model, which is detailed and highly respected. It’s probably the most comprehensive retirement model in existence, and includes virtually every type of income. You can read the whole thing here. All my data comes from Tables A8-1a through A8-12a, starting on page VIII-33. I used these tables because they were the only ones that broke out their figures by decade. Note that the current boomer generation is the one retiring in 2015-25, which I abbreviated to 2015.

    First off, here’s the MINT projection for the number of people who will retire by age 65:

    That looks good for boomers. Next up is the share of seniors drawing disability benefits:

    Boomers certainly seem to be getting their share of disability. Next up is the number of seniors covered by private pension plans:

    That looks fine too, but of course a pension only matters if it provides a fair amount of money. For some reason, MINT doesn’t model all pension income—probably because we simply don’t have data for old-style defined-benefit pensions—but they do model total financial wealth:

    Now, this is an odd chart because it doesn’t include defined-benefit pension plans. However, the decline in DB plans is modest on a per-decade basis, and anyway, we already know from Alicia Munnell herself that total pension wealth has stayed pretty steady over the past 30 years even as defined contribution plans (IRAs, 401(k)s, etc) have supplanted DB plans. So this wealth chart is probably on pretty firm ground. Next up is income:

    The news here for future generations isn’t great, but the current crop of boomers is doing great. Their average retirement income is higher than the average income for working-age folks.

    Overall, these figures simply don’t paint a grim picture. Boomers on average are doing fine in retirement. That doesn’t mean they’re all doing great, but there’s never been an era when all retirees were doing great.

    I’m happy to panic over stuff that deserves panic, but boomer retirement isn’t one of them. The poor, who rely solely on Social Security, ought to get more generous benefits, and everyone ought to be covered for long-term nursing care. But those are specific problems that have been around forever. There’s nothing special about them that affects boomers more than other generations.

  • Southern California Home Prices Did Not Set a New All-Time High Last Month

    From the LA Times today:

    The Southern California median home price surged 8.2% in May from a year earlier, hitting a new all-time high of $530,000, according to a report Thursday from CoreLogic.

    Aw, come on. I appreciate the sentiment, and I agree that home prices are starting to look a little frothy in certain places. But you really have to account for inflation if you want to declare something a “new all-time high.” The Times reports that the previous high was $505,000 in July 2007, which is equivalent to $610,000 today. We still have a ways to go before we set a new record.

    What makes this worse is that the Times piece acknowledges this in the seventh paragraph. They know we haven’t set a new record, but they still say so in the headline, the lead, and the accompanying chart. That’s just not good reporting.

  • Supreme Court Rules That Police Need a Warrant to Seize Your Cell Phone Location Records

    Scott Keeler/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA

    Someone on Twitter last night was complaining that we never get any good news these days. It’s just an endless hailstorm of crap. I feel his pain. But look! Today brings some good news. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that police need a warrant if they want your cell phone location records:

    The digital data at issue—personal location information maintained by a third party—does not fit neatly under existing precedents but lies at the intersection of two lines of cases. One set addresses a person’s expectation of privacy in his physical location and movements [Jones]….The other addresses a person’s expectation of privacy in information voluntarily turned over to third parties [Smith and Miller].

    ….A majority of the Court has already recognized that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the whole of their physical movements….Allowing government access to cell-site records […] contravenes that expectation. In fact, historical cell-site records present even greater privacy concerns than the GPS monitoring considered in Jones: They give the Government near perfect surveillance and allow it to travel back in time to retrace a person’s whereabouts, subject only to the five-year retention policies of most wireless carriers.

    ….Given the unique nature of cell-site records, this Court declines to extend Smith and Miller to cover them….First, cell phones and the services they provide are “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life” that carrying one is indispensable to participation in modern society. Second, a cell phone logs a cell-site record by dint of its operation, without any affirmative act on the user’s part beyond powering up.

    Like the Obamacare decision, this one is Roberts plus the liberals, with all the other conservatives dissenting. It’s yet another reason for conservatives to think they’ve been betrayed by a Supreme Court nominee. But Roberts wrote the decision and specifically said that his opinion was “informed by historical understandings ‘of what was deemed an unreasonable search and seizure when [the Fourth Amendment] was adopted.’ ” And let’s face it, if you could travel back in time and ask James Madison if he thought it would be OK for the government to use a magic device that tracked the precise movements of virtually every human being in the country, what do you think he’d say? That is, what do you think he’d say before he dropped dead of apoplexy?

    Live by originalism, die by originalism. The fact is that it really ought to be the “living Constitution” liberals who have a tough time with a case like this, while the conservatives should be diehard Fourth Amendment purists. But conservatives today are all believers in extreme police power, and that overrides their originalist tendencies. A lot of other things override their originalist tendencies too. This is what makes me so suspicious of originalism to begin with. If you only use it when it produces a result you agree with, what use is it?

  • Chart of the Day: Immigration Is a Good Thing

    Granted, this poll from Gallup doesn’t distinguish between legal and illegal immigration. Still, after a full year of racist fusillades from Donald Trump aimed at immigrants of all types, the number of Americans who view immigration as a good thing went up six percentage points even among Republicans. Maybe there’s hope for us after all.

  • Did the National Enquirer Coordinate With the Trump Campaign?

    Left: An example of the Enquirer's handiwork during the 2016 Republican primaries. Right: More recently, the Enquirer seems to have suddenly soured on Trump pal Michael Cohen. I wonder why?American Media Inc.

    Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that the National Enquirer has been served with a subpoena:

    Federal authorities have subpoenaed the publisher of the National Enquirer for records related to its $150,000 payment to a former Playboy model for the rights to her story alleging an affair with Donald Trump, according to people familiar with the matter….Investigators are probing any potential efforts by Mr. Cohen to suppress damaging information about Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign [and] are examining whether the payment violated campaign-finance or other laws.

    Today the Washington Post upped the ante:

    During the presidential campaign, National Enquirer executives sent digital copies of the tabloid’s articles and cover images related to Donald Trump and his political opponents to Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen in advance of publication, according to three people with knowledge of the matter — an unusual practice that speaks to the close relationship between Trump and David Pecker, chief executive of American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company….During the campaign, “if it was a story specifically about Trump, then it was sent over to Michael, and as long as there were no objections from him, the story could be published,” this person added.

    The Enquirer’s alleged sharing of material pre-publication with Trump’s attorney during the campaign highlights the support the tabloid news outlet offered Trump as he ran for president. It also intersects with a subject that federal prosecutors have been investigating since earlier this year: Cohen’s efforts to quash negative stories about Trump during the campaign. As part of that, prosecutors are also looking into whether Cohen broke campaign finance laws, according to people familiar with the investigation.

    I Am Not A Lawyer™, and I’m definitely not a campaign finance lawyer. What’s more, as a media outlet the Enquirer has very wide First Amendment rights.

    But…is there a point at which a newspaper’s endorsement turns into material support that essentially makes it into a PAC? If so, and there’s coordination between the PAC and the candidate that isn’t reported, is that a campaign violation? And if Cohen testifies that Trump knew all about this—which he certainly must have—does that put Trump himself in violation of the law?

    Those are good questions! I assume some campaign finance experts will start weighing in on them shortly.

  • Melania Trump Has No Fucks Left to Give

    Melania Trump flew to Texas today to visit migrant children held in federal detention camps. Here’s what she wore:

    Her spokesperson told reporters, “It’s a jacket. There was no hidden message.”

    This is, obviously, a lie. Melania Trump is a former fashion model who is consistently careful and exacting about the clothes she wears. Everybody knows this. It means something.

    But the funny thing is that I doubt it means she doesn’t care about the kids. Even the most xenophobic lunatic in the Republican Party wouldn’t imply that they don’t care about the kids, and it’s unlikely in the extreme that Melania deliberately decided to send this message. So what message is she sending? My guess: something Donald related. She’s saying, sure, she’ll do the First Lady thing and go to Texas in place of her husband, but really, she doesn’t care about what he wants or needs anymore.

    Maybe. Basically, though, I’m as stumped as everyone else.

    UPDATE: Donald Trump says the message “refers to the Fake News Media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!” On the assumption that everything Trump says is a lie, I’d say we can probably rule this out.

    I suppose it could refer to this, but Peter Fonda isn’t a reporter and he apologized yesterday. So … I dunno. Nothing really makes sense, but for now I’m sticking with my original guess.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    As we say hello to summer, let’s say goodbye to winter and spring. This picture was taken near my house on the clearest, nicest day of the year when there was still snow on the mountains. But that was it. That was as much snow as we ever got. It’s gonna be another dry summer.

    PROGRAMMING NOTE: Tomorrow is catblogging day, and it might be the finest catblogging photo ever in history. Be sure not to miss it!

    March 5, 2018 — Irvine, California
  • Trump’s Immigration Plan: Just Lie About It

    Susan Stocker/TNS via ZUMA

    For chrissake:

    The U.S. Border Patrol will no longer refer migrant parents who cross into the United States illegally with children to federal courthouses to face criminal charges, a senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection official told The Washington Post on Thursday.

    ….A Justice Department spokesperson denied changes to the zero tolerance policy and said prosecutions would continue.

    ….But the decision to refer migrants for criminal charges after crossing illegally rests with the U.S. Border Patrol, and the senior CBP official said the agency will no longer send parents who arrive with children to federal courts.

    ….A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, Sarah Isgur Flores, said “zero tolerance” remained in effect. “There has been no change to the Department’s zero tolerance policy to prosecute adults who cross our border illegally instead of claiming asylum at any port of entry at the border,” she said.

    So Trump’s brilliant plan is to end the zero-tolerance policy but deny that he’s ending the zero-tolerance policy. Also: ramp up his ugly language about migrants and refugees so everyone knows he’s still “tough” and “strong.”

    I’m writing this from an infusion clinic where I’m connected to an IV drip full of meds to treat bone marrow cancer. In a few days my stomach will itch; my neuropathy will get worse; my sleep cycle will implode; I’ll probably get constipated; and I’ll feel mildly nauseous. But I mind that a whole lot less than I mind being forced to listen to the vile cretin who occupies the Oval Office every day.