Kevin Drum

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Bernie Sanders Has Really Pissed Off Margaret Archer

| Fri Apr. 8, 2016 12:14 PM EDT

Bernie Sanders is headed to the Vatican:

Whether or not the pope shares the Vermont senator's enthusiasm for Eugene Debs, he's "feeling the Bern" enough to have invited the Jewish presidential candidate to speak at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, during a conference on social, economic, and environmental issues. Sanders will head to Rome immediately after the April 14 Democratic debate in Brooklyn.

But apparently the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences is decidedly not feeling the Bern:

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders reached out to obtain his invitation to the Vatican and showed "monumental discourtesy" in the process, a senior Vatican official said.

"Sanders made the first move, for the obvious reasons," Margaret Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which is hosting the conference Sanders will attend, said in a telephone interview. "I think in a sense he may be going for the Catholic vote but this is not the Catholic vote and he should remember that and act accordingly—not that he will."

Huh. I wonder what Bernie did to piss off Margaret Archer? Maybe it has something to do with his views on conflation:

Margaret Archer argues that much social theory suffers from the generic defect of conflation where, due to a reluctance or inability to theorize emergent relationships between social phenomena, causal autonomy is denied to one side of the relation. This can take the form of autonomy being denied to agency with causal efficacy only granted to structure (downwards conflation). Alternatively it can take the form of autonomy being denied to structure with causal efficacy only granted to agency (upwards conflation).

…In contradistinction Archer offers the approach of analytical dualism. While recognizing the interdependence of structure and agency (i.e. without people there would be no structures) she argues that they operate on different timescales. At any particular moment, antecedently existing structures constrain and enable agents, whose interactions produce intended and unintended consequences, which leads to structural elaboration and the [etc. etc.]

Does that help? No? Sorry about that. I guess someone will have to ask Archer just what Bernie did that was so monumentally discourteous. Was it merely asking for an invitation in the first place? Is it the fact that Bernie is pro-choice? Or something more? We need someone to dig into the Vatican gossip machine and let us know.

UPDATE: Apparently this is all part of some vicious infighting among the Vatican's social scientists:

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was invited to speak at an April 15 Vatican event by the Vatican, a senior papal official said on Friday....He said it was his idea to invite Sanders.

A Bloomberg report quoted Margaret Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, as saying that Sanders had broken with protocol by failing to contact her office first. "This is not true and she knows it. I invited him with her consensus," said [Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez] Sorondo, who is senior to Archer.

An invitation to Sanders dated March 30, which was emailed to Reuters, was signed by Sorondo and also included Archer's name.

Well then.

It's Been Quiet Lately. Maybe a Little Too Quiet...

| Fri Apr. 8, 2016 11:53 AM EDT

Didn't there used to be some guy named Donald Trump running for president? Whatever happened to him? It seems like days since I've heard a desperate cry for attention from the campaign trail.

CEO Pay Down in 2015, But Still Higher Than Its Bubble Heights

| Fri Apr. 8, 2016 11:28 AM EDT

Sad news today from the Wall Street Journal. Among CEOs of big companies, stock-based pay was up 7 percent last year and cash pay was up 2 percent. But thanks to slower growth of CEO pensions, overall compensation was down 4 percent.

But perhaps CEOs will be mollified by the broader picture, which you can see in the chart on the right. CEO pay is up about 44 percent since 2007 in nominal terms, and up about 38 percent when you account for inflation. For ordinary workers, pay has decreased 5 percent since 2007 when you account for inflation.

For anyone wondering why Bernie Sanders has struck such a chord with the electorate, this pretty much tells the story. The Great Recession sure didn't affect everyone equally, did it? Ordinary schlubs paid a high price, but the folks with the most lavish pay to begin with just shrugged it off like it never happened. If the rich wonder why calls to tax high incomes at 90 percent sound pretty good to a lot of people, this should clue them in.