Kevin Drum

Hillary Clinton: "Politics Has to Play Some Role in This"

| Tue Apr. 12, 2016 11:01 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton is famously well briefed, so you can be sure she had no trouble answering questions from the Daily News editorial board. "Look, I'm excited about this stuff," she said. "I'm kind of a wonky person. I'm excited by it."

Needless to say, this also meant her interview was spectacularly dull. But after a wonky discussion of her idea for a national infrastructure bank, we got at least one revealing tidbit:

Daily News: There are many who believe that the stimulus program that had a lot of infrastructure money was divided up politically.

Clinton: Well, look. Politics has to play some role in this. Let's not forget we do have to play some role. I got to get it passed through Congress. And I think I'm well-prepared to do that. I was telling you about Buffalo. I got $20 million. Now I got that because it was political. But it worked. And it has created this amazing medical complex. So I don't disregard the politics, but I believe one of the ways to get to the overall political outcome is by doing a better job than I think was done in the Obama administration, in constantly talking about what this can mean—new jobs, new economic growth and competitiveness.

This isn't breaking news or anything, but it's a surprisingly direct defense of plain old politics, which modern politicians are required to condemn with extreme prejudice. Politics is supposed to be the problem, not the solution. It's why Washington doesn't work. Too many Beltway folks playing the same old political games.

But as Clinton says, that's not really true. Like anything, political maneuvering can go too far. But the problem with Washington these days is too little politics, not too much. Bring back earmarks! Bring back logrolling and back-scratching! Bring back carrots and sticks! Bring back conference committees! Bring back a bit of give and take.

You don't hear politicians defend the grubby business of politics very often these days. It's nice to hear it once in a while.

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Yet Another Feinstein-Burr Bill Has Been Leaked

| Tue Apr. 12, 2016 1:17 AM EDT

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr apparently have very unreliable staffs. Yet another discussion draft of a national security bill they're jointly sponsoring has been leaked to the press. They really need to tighten up their operation.

Ted Cruz Is Almost as Popular as Donald Trump

| Mon Apr. 11, 2016 9:10 PM EDT

In case you haven't been playing close attention, the Republican primary race has become quite the nail biter. Ted Cruz still has a lot of ground to make up, but as you can see in the Pollster chart below, over the last month he's nearly caught up to Donald Trump in overall popularity. The Pollster chart also makes it clear why so many people are annoyed with John Kasich: he has no chance of winning, but he's probably helping Trump stay alive. If he pulled out of the race, it's likely that most of his followers would switch to Cruz, giving him a considerable poll lead over Trump, which in turn would help him win more primaries. Instead, Trump is hanging on for grim life.

FWIW, the same dynamic—sans Trump and sans a Kasich-esque spoiler—is visible on the Democratic side, where Bernie Sanders is now within a couple of points of Hillary Clinton in national polling. This is quite a primary cycle we're having this year.

Donald Trump, Skinflint

| Mon Apr. 11, 2016 5:45 PM EDT

While I was busy over the weekend renovating the hub of my blogging empire, Donald Trump made his first-ever visit to the September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City. While there, he donated $100,000 to the museum:

Reporters who were invited late on Friday to join Mr. Trump for the museum visit, which was not on his schedule, were kept in a media van as he entered the museum. An aide said he would speak with reporters afterward, but Mr. Trump then decided against it. His aides sent out a photo of the Trumps inside the museum about 90 minutes later, along with a statement saying that the rebuilding of ground zero was "what 'New York values' are really about."

The donation check was from Mr. Trump's foundation, not from him personally. He had been approached over the years by people trying to raise money for the museum, but he never did, until Saturday.

Goodness. When did Trump become so media shy? Maybe it was because he knew the Washington Post was going to drop a story the next day about his repeated claim that he's given over $100 million to charity in the past five years:

To back up that claim, Trump's campaign compiled a list of his contributions—4,844 of them, filling 93 pages. But, in that massive list, one thing was missing. Not a single one of those donations was actually a personal gift of Trump's own money.

Instead, according to a Washington Post analysis, many of the gifts that Trump cited to prove his generosity were free rounds of golf, given away by his courses for charity auctions and raffles.

…Many of the gifts on the list came from the charity that bears his name, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which didn't receive a personal check from Trump from 2009 through 2014, according to the most recent public tax filings. Its work is largely funded by others, although Trump decides where the gifts go.

…The most expensive charitable contributions on Trump's list, by contrast, dealt with transactions related to real estate.
For one, Trump counted $63.8 million of unspecified "conservation easements."…In California, for example, Trump agreed to an easement that prevented him from building homes on a plot of land near a golf course.

Generally speaking, I'm not keen on judging politicians by how much of their income they devote to charity. But Trump is in a different class. He claims to be worth $10 billion, and he claims to be an extremely generous guy. In fact, he's a skinflint. His company's CFO—who seems to double as Trump's personal financial advisor—says that Trump really has made a lot of personal charitable contributions, but "we want to keep them quiet. He doesn't want other charities to see it. Then it becomes like a feeding frenzy."

Uh huh. I will leave the credibility of that statement as an exercise for the reader. Speaking for myself, I think it's no coincidence that Trump's two primary residences are near the Brooklyn Bridge and the Florida swamps.

Objectivity in Journalism Has Some Serious Pitfalls

| Mon Apr. 11, 2016 2:38 PM EDT

I've been a little chart heavy this morning, and now I've got one more. This comes from a paper written a few months ago by Jesse Shapiro of Brown University, and it presents a model of how journalism can fail when special interests are involved. The model itself is pretty simple: if journalists present both sides of an argument at face value, then special interests are highly motivated to invent plausible-sounding evidence for their side of the argument—regardless of whether it's anywhere close to true. As long as they get quoted, the public will be suitably confused even if the journalists themselves know that it's mostly hogwash.

No surprise there. But this works only if journalists abide by a convention which demands that both sides are treated as equally credible. What happens if that's not true? The chart below tells an interesting story on climate change:

In the United States, journalists tend to simply present both sides of an argument without taking sides. In other countries, where that norm is less strict, reporters often tell their readers which side has the better argument. When that happens, the public is more likely to believe in climate change.

Now, there are obviously pitfalls to reporters deciding which side has the better argument. You can end up being better informed by this, or you can end up like Fox News. Still, it's an interesting comment on the American style of journalism.

Chart of the Day: The Rich Live a Lot Longer Than the Poor

| Mon Apr. 11, 2016 1:26 PM EDT

This really is the chart of the day. It seems like it's been making the rounds on about half the blogs I read:

It comes from the Health Inequality Project, and it will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog. Still, these findings are even more dramatic than usual. The difference in life expectancy between the poorest and richest is a full 15 years for men and 10 years for women. But this chart, based on HIP's data, is important too:

In the largest coastal cities, life expectancy is four or five years longer than it is in smaller, Midwestern cities. If you take a look at the map in HIP's report, there's a broad swath running diagonally from Texas up through the rust belt that has the lowest life expectancies in the nation. Why? Perhaps because of this:

Much of the variation in life expectancy across areas is explained by differences in health behaviors, such as smoking and exercise. Differences in life expectancy among the poor are not strongly associated with differences in access to health care or levels of income inequality. Instead, the poor live longest in affluent cities with highly educated populations and high levels of local government expenditures, such as New York and San Francisco.

If you're looking for policy conclusions, I can toss out two off the top of my head. First, effective public health campaigns matter. Reducing smoking and encouraging better eating and exercise can make a big difference. Second, increasing the retirement age is the worst possible way to fix Social Security's funding problems. It's already 67 for everyone under the age of 55. This means that among the rich, a two year increase reduces their retirement life by about two years out of 20—roughly 10 percent. But among the poor, it takes two years out of ten—roughly 20 percent. There's no need to balance the Social Security trust fund on the backs of the poor. We have plenty of better alternatives.

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Scientists Undervalue Meticulousness By a Lot

| Mon Apr. 11, 2016 11:18 AM EDT

According to a note in Nature, honesty and curiosity are the most highly prized traits among scientists.

That's all well and good. I'm also happy to see perseverance and objectivity on the list. Also humility, attentiveness, skepticism, courage, and willingness to collaborate. But I'm a little dismayed that meticulousness barely even cracked the top ten. Most of the greatest scientists in history were extraordinarily meticulous: Newton, Darwin, Galileo, Feynman, etc.

Meticulous attention to detail is how you turn all that curiosity and perseverance into lasting results. It's also how you maintain your objectivity, your humility, and your skepticism. I hope that in their daily lives, scientists value meticulousness more than they do when they answer survey questions.

Friday Fundraising and Catblogging - 8 April 2016

| Fri Apr. 8, 2016 3:05 PM EDT

April is an important fundraising month here at Mother Jones, and my colleague David Corn—you may remember him as the guy responsible for Valerie Plame and Mitt Romney's 47 percent snafu—wrote a pitch called "Trump, the Media, and You," explaining how our model of reader-supported journalism allows MoJo to report on substantive issues (like actual policy proposals and digging into candidates' pasts!) that are largely missing from this year's election coverage. Here's David:

IN A WORLD OF RATINGS AND CLICKS, financially pressed media outlets frequently zero in on the shining objects of the here and now. Merely covering Trump's outrageous remarks—did you see his latest tweet?!—has become its own beat. Even the best reporting that does happen can become lost in the never-ending flood of blogs, tweets, Facebook posts, and stories that appear in increasingly shorter news cycles.

At Mother Jones, we try each day to sort out what to cover—and where to concentrate our reporting in order to make a difference. Yes, we need to follow the daily twists and turns. But we recognize it's important for journalists to get off the spinning hamster wheel and dig where others do not.

Donate Now

Hmmm. It kinda sounds like I'm MoJo's resident hamster. It's a tough job, but I guess someone has to do it. After all, with me on the hamster wheel, David and the rest of our reporters can focus their work on the in-depth, investigative journalism that might not make us rich in advertising dollars, but that voters and our democratic process desperately need.

If you’re reading this, I’d bet that you like both—coverage of the circus, and smart, probing journalism. They both matter. If you agree, I hope you’ll pitch in a couple bucks during our fundraising drive—and since we’re a nonprofit, your contributions are tax-deductible. You can give by credit card, or PayPal.

Still, hamster though I may be, we all know that Friday afternoon is reserved for cats. And I know what you're thinking: That pod I bought last week looks lovely and comfy, but it only has room for one cat. What's up with that?

Pshaw. There is always room for another cat. It's the magic of cat physics, far more astounding than black holes or quantum mechanics. No matter how many cats you have, somehow you can always squeeze in one more.

Paul Krugman Is Annoying

| Fri Apr. 8, 2016 2:40 PM EDT

Paul Krugman doesn't think much of Bernie Sanders. Krugman being Krugman, that means he's been flooding the zone with anti-Bernie columns and blog posts. This hasn't gone over well with many of his erstwhile fans:

Greg Sargent gets this right. These days, nobody is allowed to be anti-Bernie or anti-Hillary simply because they disagree with them. There has to be some hidden, crypto-conservative agenda involved. In reality, though, this is just Krugman being his usual self. It's what he does. Lefties are now learning why conservatives find him so annoying.

Benghazi Committee Passes 700-Day Milestone

| Fri Apr. 8, 2016 1:01 PM EDT

House Democrats pointed out today that the Select Committee on Benghazi has now been cranking along for 700 days. Steve Benen comments:

To put this in context, the 9/11 Commission, investigating every possible angle to the worst terrorist attack in the history of the country, worked for 604 days and created a bipartisan report endorsed by each of the commission’s members....Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-S.C.) Benghazi panel has also lasted longer than the investigations into the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy, the Iran-Contra scandal, Church Committee, and the Watergate probe.

What Steve fails to acknowledge, of course, is that Benghazi is far more important than any of these other events. So naturally it's going to take longer. I'm guessing that 914 days should just about do the trick.