Kevin Drum

Marco Rubio Sure Does Have a Lot of (Very, Very) Secret Admirers

| Wed Nov. 25, 2015 12:37 PM EST

We all know that dark money is this year's hotness, right? So who's the king of dark money? It turns out the answer is Marco Rubio. Other candidates all have their Super PACs, but Super PACs disclose their donors. Rubio has the Conservative Solutions Project, a 501(c)(4) that doesn't. And as Andrew Prokop points out, CSP has been responsible for virtually all of the TV ads so far promoting Rubio.

Wait—allow me to revise and extend. 501(c)(4) groups aren't allowed to promote candidates, so of course CSP isn't doing so. It's doing "issue education." Like this, for example:

Can you feel the education? Sure you can! So far Rubio's buddies who run CSP have spent $8.4 million educating us about the problems facing America and the types of fresh, young, Cuban-American men who are leading the charge to solve them. For some reason though, none of the worthies involved in this issue education care to make their largesse public. I wonder what they've got to hide?

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Russia Is Paying a Price for Vladimir Putin's Napoleon Complex

| Wed Nov. 25, 2015 12:05 PM EST

Russia says its pilot received no warning before Turkey shot down one of its fighters on Tuesday. Turkey says it gave plenty of warning. Here's the New York Times today:

A United States military spokesman, Col. Steven Warren, confirmed on Tuesday that Turkish pilots had warned the Russian pilot 10 times, but that the Russian jet ignored the warnings....At the emergency NATO meeting, Turkish officials played recordings of the warnings Turkish F-16 pilots had issued to the Russian aircraft. The Russian pilots did not reply.

The fact that the US says this doesn't automatically make it true. On the other hand, I wouldn't believe Vladimir Putin without checking for myself if he told me the sky was blue. So while it's entirely likely that both sides have been testing each other for the past couple of weeks, my best guess at this point is that Russia has flown over the Hatay peninsula repeatedly and been warned about it, but continued doing it anyway. This kind of provocation is pretty common in Putin's Russia. This time, though, he did it to a country headed by a guy much like himself, and he paid the price for it.

So what happens now? "We're not going to war against Turkey," the Russian foreign minister said today, but Russia will probably announce some kind of symbolic reprisal soon. And that will be that. Putin is discovering to his sorrow that Syria is not quite the same as Crimea or South Ossetia. It's all great when you can show off your shiny new cruise missiles on the nightly news, but this isn't a war that will be over in a few weeks because there's nobody to fight back. It's a never-ending quagmire, and there's not really much in it for Russia.

President Obama Has a Different Job Than President Hollande

| Wed Nov. 25, 2015 10:53 AM EST

Dana Milbank was unimpressed by the contrast Barack Obama made yesterday during his press conference with French president François Hollande. Hollande was animated and can-do about destroying ISIS, while Obama was....a little more realistic about things:

Tough talk won’t defeat terrorists — but it will rally a nation. It’s no mere coincidence that the unpopular Hollande’s support has increased during his forceful response to the attacks, while Obama’s poll numbers are down.

The importance of language was very clear at the White House on Tuesday, even in translation. There was little difference in their strategies for fighting the Islamic State, but Hollande was upbeat and can-do, while Obama was discouraging and lawyerly. It was as if the smoke-’em-out spirit of George W. Bush had been transplanted into the body of a short, pudgy, bespectacled French socialist with wrinkled suit-pants.

....Hollande spoke of a new era. “There is a new mind-set now,” Hollande said. “And those who believed that we could wait” now realize “the risk is everywhere . . . . We, therefore, must act.”

Then came President Oh-bummer. “Syria has broken down,” he said. “And it is going to be a difficult, long, methodical process to bring back together various factions within Syria to maintain a Syrian state.”

Maybe you can motivate people when you sound so discouraging. But it’s hard.

Aside from the fact that Milbank is cherry picking a bit here, I think he misses a few things. First is the most obvious: France is the country that was just attacked. Of course its president is the more emotional one. Hollande would seem more emotional than pretty much anyone he was paired up with. Have you ever seen Angela Merkel at a press conference?

Second, let's face facts: over the past year France has probably conducted no more than a few hundred airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. It only started strikes against ISIS in Syria last month. When Hollande says "we must act," he's basically asking the United States to act.

Third and most important: Obama isn't trying to rally a nation. Just the opposite, maybe. He's been down this road before, and he's well aware that revving up the public for a splendid little war requires no effort at all—especially during campaign season. When reporters demand to know why we can't just "take out the bastards," it's obvious that Obama has a different job than Hollande. He's not trying to rally a nation, he's trying to keep everyone grounded about exactly what we can do. And for that I say: good for him. It's harder and less satisfying than preaching fire and brimstone, but in the long run it's better for the country.

The Case For Donald Trump Being a Liar Is Overwhelming

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 10:06 PM EST

I've gotten some pushback on my post about calling Donald Trump's serial tall tales lying. The main objection is an obvious one: something is only a lie if you tell it knowingly. Trump tells lots of whoppers, but maybe he's just misinformed. Or, in cases like the Jersey City Muslims, maybe he's convinced himself that he really saw them cheering on 9/11. There's no way to know for sure.

This is true: we can't know for sure. But in Trump's case we can be pretty damn sure. After all, this hasn't happened once or twice or three times. It's happened dozens of times on practically a daily basis. He doesn't just tell these stories until somebody corrects him. He blithely keeps on telling them long after he must know they're untrue. And while memory can fail, Trump has, by my count, told at least seven separate stories based on his own memory for which there is either (a) no evidence or (b) directly contradictory evidence.1 Some of them are for things that had happened only a few days or weeks before.

If you're waiting for absolute, watertight, 100 percent proof of a knowing lie, you'll probably never get it. But the case in favor of Trump being a serial liar is overwhelming—and in the fallen world in which we live, this is how adults have to make judgments about people. Given the evidence at hand, there's simply no reasonable conclusion except one: Donald Trump is a serial liar.

1On my list of Trump fabrications, they are numbers 1, 6, 8, 13, 18, 19, and 26.

Quote of the Day: Here's What the Republican Primary Has Come To

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 9:28 PM EST

Gideon Resnick shows us what the Republican primary has come to:

A Carson campaign official told CBS News on Sunday that the candidate has considered taking a trip to Asia, Africa, or Australia in order to do something “eye-opening” prior to the Iowa caucus in February....(Australia was likely in the mix because Carson says he spent time working there at Charles Gairdner Hospital in 1983, according to his autobiography Gifted Hands. The Daily Beast has reached out to the hospital to confirm.)

A leading presidential candidate makes a simple, entirely plausible statement in his autobiography and yet a reporter feels like maybe he ought to make a call to double check it. Just in case. And I can't say that I blame him.

(Fine: I'm being snarky. For the record, I believe that Carson really was there.)

The Big Problem With Electric Cars: They're Too Reliable

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 5:11 PM EST

Matt Richtel has an intriguing article today in the New York Times about electric cars. The question is: why aren't they selling better? Is it because they have weak performance? Because they can only go a hundred miles on a charge? Because they're expensive?

Those are all issues.1 But it turns out that people who want to buy an electric car anyway have a hard time getting dealerships to sell them one:

Kyle Gray, a BMW salesman, said he was personally enthusiastic about the technology, but...the sales process takes more time because the technology is new, cutting into commissions....Marc Detsch, Nissan’s business development manager for electric vehicles said some salespeople just can’t rationalize the time it takes to sell the cars. A salesperson “can sell two gas burners in less than it takes to sell a Leaf,” he said. “It’s a lot of work for a little pay.”

He also pointed to the potential loss of service revenue. “There’s nothing much to go wrong,” Mr. Deutsch said of electric cars. “There’s no transmission to go bad.”....Jared Allen, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said there wasn’t sufficient data to prove that electric cars would require less maintenance. But he acknowledged that service was crucial to dealer profits and that dealers didn’t want to push consumers into electric cars that might make them less inclined to return for service.

I suppose this makes sense. And to all this, you can add the fact that none of these cars can fly. There are so many hurdles to overcome before we make it into the Jetson's future we were all promised.

1We are, of course, talking about the non-Tesla market here.

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Donald Trump Is a Pathological Liar. It's Time to Stop Tiptoeing Around This.

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 2:35 PM EST

Let's take a look at a few headlines about Donald Trump lately:

CNN: Does Donald Trump transcend the truth?

New York Times: Donald Trump’s shortcuts and salesmanlike stretches

ABC News: Donald Trump gaining strength despite questionable comments

The Atlantic: Donald Trump's fact-free weekend

Washington Post: Donald Trump is leading an increasingly fact-free 2016 campaign

NBC News: Amid outcry, Trump continues campaign of controversy

BBC: Trump 'wrong' in claiming US Arabs cheered 9/11 attacks

CBS New York: Evidence supporting Trump’s claim of Jersey City Muslims cheering on 9/11 is hard to come by

Business Insider: Donald Trump declares massive victory on his widely disputed claim about 9/11

Los Angeles Times: When it comes to Syrian refugees and fighting Islamic State, Trump wings it

USA Today: Trump defends tweet with faulty crime stats as 'a retweet'

Fox News: Trump tweet on black crime sets off firestorm

It's way past time for this stuff. You can call Trump's statements lies or fabrications or even falsehoods if you insist on being delicate about it. But you can't call them questionable or controversial or salesmanlike or disputed or even faulty. The man is a serial, pathological liar. Isn't it about time for the journalistic community to work up the courage to report this with clear eyes?

Who's the Most Humble? We Are!

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 2:03 PM EST

People For the American Way emails to highlight something from last Friday's pre-Thanksgiving celebration of Christian virtue in Iowa. Here is Carly Fiorina:

"I do think it's worth saying," Fiorina declared, "that people of faith make better leaders because faith gives us humility, faith teaches us that no one of us is greater than any other one of us, that each of us are gifted by God. Faith gives us empathy; we know that all of us can fall and every one of us can be redeemed. And faith gives us optimism, it gives us the belief that there is something better, that there is someone bigger than all of us."

PFAW is doing the Lord's work here—so to speak—but I can't get too worked up about this. It's annoying, but what do you expect at a big gathering of evangelical Christians in Iowa? But then there's this from omnipresent messaging guru Frank Luntz:

Luntz then followed up on Fiorina's statement by declaring that "I can back that up statistically," asserting that "every single positive factor that you can describe is directly correlated to someone's relationship with faith, with God, and all the pathologies that you would criticize are directly related to a rejection of God."

You know, I've got nothing against organized religion. It provides an important part of life for a lot of people and does a lot of good charitable work. It also does some harm, but what human organization doesn't?

<rant volume=7>

But it sure does get tiresome to hear Christians like Fiorina constantly preening about how great they are and then in their next breath boasting about their humility. Fiorina also explicitly suggests that nonbelievers are second-rate leaders and then immediately congratulates believers like herself for their empathy. As for optimism, I have rarely come across a community more convinced that the entire country has become a grim and ghastly abomination than evangelical Christians. Generally speaking, I'd say that evangelical Christians—the ones who blather in public anyway—are among the least humble, least empathetic, and least optimistic people in the country.

Still, you can just chalk all this up to political hyperbole and let it go. But then Luntz steps in to bring the Science™. It's not just Fiorina's opinion that believers are better than nonbelievers. By God, Luntz can prove that every single bad thing in the world is due to unbelievers. Who needs faith when you have dial tests? So there you have it: Revel in your overwhelming superiority, Christians. What better way to win sympathy for your views?


Have a nice Thanksgiving, everyone. Eat with a few sinners and publicans this year, OK?

Here's a Look at the Memes That Climate Denialists Are Funding These Days

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 12:48 PM EST

How does climate denial work? Who funds it? In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Justin Farrell used network analysis to take a detailed look at a massive corpus of 41,000 texts written between 1993 and 2013 and came up with an unsurprising answer to the second question: ExxonMobil and the Koch family foundations are the 800-pound gorillas here. But it's not just direct contributions from these two that matter. They also act as a signal of approval for everyone else: "Donations from these corporate benefactors signals entry into a powerful network of influence," Farrell says.

Perhaps the most intriguing finding, however, is that climate denial is faddish. Certain themes get hot for a while and then get replaced by others. For example, take a look at the chart on the right. Is CO2 good? Well, sure: without it all of Earth's plants would die and then we'd die too. Duh. But around 2008 we saw a spurt of op-eds and videos telling us that since "CO2 is life," then more CO2 must be a good thing, not a bad one. Remember those? But what prompted this idiocy? As the chart shows, organizations that received no funding from corporate denialists never adopted this meme. But among organizations that did receive funding, the "CO2 is life" meme skyrocketed.

You can see similar dynamics with other denialist memes, which have all had both fallow and active periods. Interestingly, though, the four memes Farrell studied are all in active periods right now. Hyperactive, even. And those memes all took off at the same time: around 2007-09. This might be related to the public embrace of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, or it might be related to the election of a Democratic president. Or both. Farrell's research doesn't tell us. Just for the record, though, here are the four memes he identified. I have taken the liberty of translating them into language we can all understand:

  • The great "global warming pause" based on using 1998 as a baseline.
  • Energy production means more jobs and more growth.
  • CO2: You call it pollution, we call it life.
  • Hey, global temperatures go up and down all the time throughout history.

According to Farrell's data, all of these memes are still in full flower. This is surprising since I haven't seen the "CO2 is life" nonsense lately. Maybe it's just gone underground. In any case, now you know where it comes from.

How Popular Is Your Senator?

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 11:50 AM EST

Martin Longman points us this morning to Morning Consult, which has a fun list of the most and least popular senators in America. The most popular senator in his home state is Bernie Sanders; the least popular is either Bob Menendez or Mitch McConnell, depending on whether you go by approval or disapproval ratings. But which states are the most and least satisfied? That turns out to be surprisingly easy to figure out:

  • Vermont is the happiest state. Vermonters really like both Sanders and Patrick Leahy. Maine and Wyoming also do well.
  • Arizona is the grumpiest state. Both John McCain and Jeff Flake have sky-high disapproval levels. Kentucky is also pretty unhappy with its senators.

On another note, not a single state that begins with A has a Democratic senator. How about that?