• Friday Cat Blogging – 15 February 2019

    Earlier this week, when I was taking pictures of raindrop splashes, I opened the window over my desk and took the screen out. This immediately attracted both cats, who were fascinated by this brand new way to get into the backyard. They were also fascinated by the birds who cluster around here because this is where our bird feeder is. In this picture, Hilbert’s attention is locked on a bird that he is hoping will fly into his mouth. Hopper’s attention is apparently locked on my computer. Or possibly a bug of some kind. Who knows?

  • Quote of the Day: Emergency? What Emergency?

    Martin H. Simon/CNP via ZUMA

    From President Trump on the $6 billion he’s going to take from the military to build his wall:

    I said, “What were you going to use it for?” And I won’t go into details, but it didn’t sound too important to me.

    Good to know! But really, this is the most important thing Trump said:

    I could do the wall over a longer period of time, I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster….The only reason we’re up here talking about this is because of the election, because they want to try and win an election which it looks like they’re not going to be able to do. And this is one of the ways they think they can possibly win is by obstruction and a lot of other nonsense. And I think that I just want to get it done faster, that’s all.

    I assume this will be Exhibit A in the lawsuits that will be brought against Trump’s declaration of emergency. “I didn’t need to do this,” he said, and with that the game is up. Congress explicitly refused to appropriate the money he wanted, and Trump thinks this is just an election ploy. It’s hard to see how any judge can agree that this is a true emergency in the face of this admission on national TV.

  • Imports Are Getting Cheaper

    I have no real reason to post this, but I thought two or three of you might be interested. Here is the inflation rate of goods (ex fuel) imported into the United States:

    This is basically the equivalent of the CPI except only for imported goods. Imports feed into the CPI, so this is one reason why inflation has been declining for the past half year or so.

  • Twitter Really Is the Best Way to Understand Donald Trump

    President Trump is talking. That is, he’s stringing words together into vaguely sentence-like constructions. Let’s listen in via my carefully curated Twitter feed. I guarantee that this captures the spirit of Trump’s remarks better than any normal media story you’ll read:

  • Trump Plans to Steal $6 Billion From National Defense for His Wall

    Olivier Douliery/Abaca/TNS via ZUMA

    The shutdown crisis is over:

    President Trump is speaking at an event in the Rose Garden, where his acting chief of staff says he will announce that he will sign spending legislation to avert a government shutdown and at the same declare a national emergency with the aim of securing about $6.5 billion more to build his long-promised border wall without congressional approval.

    ….Trump is eyeing about $600 million from a Treasury Department drug forfeiture fund and $2.5 billion from a Department of Defense drug interdiction program, according to officials. In addition, the president wants to use $3.6 billion in military construction funds to help build his new border barriers. Of the different pots of money, White House officials believe only a military construction account requires a national emergency designation.

    Maybe some budget expert can help us out here. My first question is: What’s the point? There are only seven months left in the fiscal year, and I doubt Trump could spend $6 billion in seven months even if nothing (i.e., lawsuits) stood in his way. Second: What was the Pentagon planning to do with this money? A mere few months ago we were being told that our military was in such dire ramshackle shape that it desperately need a huge budget increase. Did that turn out not to be true? Were they wasting so much money that they won’t even notice that they’re losing $6 billion? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • Amazon Sends a Message to America’s Cities

    The Amazon Urban Campus in Seattle.Paul Gordon/ZUMA

    After three months of steadily growing vitriol, Amazon has decided to kill its proposed New York headquarters:

    Amazon on Thursday canceled its plans to build an expansive corporate campus in New York City after facing an unexpectedly fierce backlash from some lawmakers and union leaders, who contended that a tech giant did not deserve nearly $3 billion in government incentives.

    The company’s decision is a major blow for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had set aside their differences to bring the company to New York. But it was at least a short-term win for insurgent progressive politicians led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose upset victory last year occurred in the area where Amazon had planned its site. Her win galvanized the party’s left flank, which mobilized against the deal, and on Thursday she seemed to revel in the company’s retreat.

    I have seen many takes on this, but I haven’t yet seen the one that I think is correct: Amazon did this to send a message. Public outcries over huge development projects are hardly a big surprise, after all. Amazon must have been prepared for brickbats and legal battles no matter where it went. But they didn’t need New York all that badly, and pulling out this fast makes it clear to other cities that Amazon plays hardball. If they decide to relocate their HQ2 to, say, Chicago, you can bet that the City of Broad Shoulders will tread very lightly before letting complaints get out of hand.

  • Will Section 224(a) Upset the Budget Deal Apple Cart?

    Apparently the Senate is going to vote today on the budget bill, and I assume Mitch McConnell wouldn’t allow that to happen unless (a) he had 51 votes and (b) President Trump has said he’ll sign it. Does this mean our long national nightmare is finally over?

    Maybe. But border hardliners are now pissed off about something entirely new: Section 224(a).

    UAC stands for Unaccompanied Alien Child, and the hawks are claiming that this provides de facto amnesty for anyone who is, or might be, taking care of an immigrant child. Democrats, presumably, describe this as a way of preventing ICE from tearing families apart. I, personally, don’t have a strong view because I don’t know what the real-life effect of this provision would be.

    But what matters is that conservatives are now manning the phone lines again. This follows a short period when many of them were shrugging from exhaustion and saying they’d be willing to just take the 55 miles of new fencing and fight for the rest of it later. Depending on how fast they can marshal their forces, this might affect either the Senate vote or Trump’s support for the bill—or both. Alternatively, maybe McConnell wants to bull this through fast before anyone upsets the apple cart. Stay tuned.

    UPDATE: That was quick. Trump will sign the bill and then declare a national emergency that directs the Pentagon to build the wall. This will almost certainly get tied up in court for years. As for Section 224(a), Trump couldn’t care less. Sorry, hardliners. This is what you get when you back a racist moron.

  • The Bezos Affair Gets Even Weirder

    Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez.Prensa Internacional via Zuma

    This is not ordinarily a gossip site, but damn. The story we’ve heard so far about Amazon gazillionaire Jeff Bezos is that he sent a bunch of, um, below-the-belt selfies to his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez, and then they were stolen and turned over to the National Enquirer, which tried to blackmail Bezos over them. The thief was Michael Sanchez, Lauren’s brother.

    What an asshole! He did this to his own sister! But wait. Gabe Sherman has an interview with Michael Sanchez today, and he doesn’t merely deny the allegations, he claims to have been Jeff and Lauren’s closest confidant about their affair over the past year:

    “I had nothing to do with leak of the dick pics. That’s the important thing,” Michael told me….“Until I go under oath, what I can tell you now is that ever since April 20, when I met Jeff, my only goal has been to protect Jeff and Lauren.”…Over the last year, he said, he served as an unofficial adviser to the couple as they discussed what would happen if their love affair leaked.

    ….In October, Lauren and Bezos had their first publicity scare when they spotted a paparazzo taking long-lens photos of them from the Santa Monica beach. Then, at dinner at Santa Monica restaurant Capo, Lauren noticed a reporter snapping photos of their table….“We were literally standing on the street with Jeff Bezos and his mistress. I got very protective of him. I said, ‘We need to get you into an Uber,’ ” Michael recalled.

    Two months later, they were outed. On the morning of January 7, Michael was on a Caribbean cruise when he was alerted that the Enquirer had called Bezos and Lauren for comment on their affair. “Lauren and Jeff called me like 911. They were terrified,” Michael recalled….Eventually, according to Michael, they settled on the plan that Michael would fly to New York on January 8 to meet with Enquirer editor Dylan Howard and find out what the tabloid planned to publish. But Bezos seemed to have changed his mind and went on the offensive, retaining powerhouse Los Angeles litigator Marty Singer. Early on the morning of January 9, before Michael met with Howard, Bezos tweeted out that he was divorcing his wife, MacKenzie. “Lauren was blindsided by the tweet,” Michael told me.

    So Michael Sanchez not only denies sending pictures to the Enquirer (he thinks Lauren shared them with girlfriends), he claims to have been their biggest protector. This is either Trump-level lying or else the biggest twist ever to a story like this. And there’s more at the link. You might as well click and read it. You know you want to.