Kevin Drum

Why Do So Many People Believe Bernie Sanders?

| Tue Jan. 26, 2016 12:47 PM EST

OK, now for the Democrats. It's really hard to get excited about the state of the race, isn't it?

The Clinton campaign's focus on gun control is absurd. Hillary has an NRA grade of F and Bernie gets a D-. That's what we're arguing about? For chrissake. How dispiriting can you get?

On health care, Bernie wants single-payer. Me too. And I'll bet Hillary does as well. She's just decided that it's not politically useful to say so. And since neither one of them is going to get it anytime soon, does it really matter much?

The same is true on nearly every other domestic issue. Bernie is off to Hillary's left—either genuinely or rhetorically—but in office they'd both be constrained to the same place. Neither one could accomplish even what Hillary wants, let alone what Bernie wants.

The one place where they have real differences and those differences might matter is national security. But for reasons of their own, neither of them really wants to talk much about that. Hillary doesn't want to highlight her relative hawkishness in a Democratic primary, and Bernie doesn't really want to highlight what his dovishness would mean in practice. Besides, it just gets in the way of the only message he really cares about: plutocracy and income inequality.

Bottom line: given the realities of American politics, they'd both be highly constrained in what they can accomplish in the White House. It doesn't matter what's in their hearts. What matters is (a) whether they can win in November and (b) what kind of deals they can broker with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.

Anybody who's read my blog for a while can guess where I fall on this. I think Bernie has done a great job of pushing Hillary a bit to the left and demonstrating that she can expect continued pressure on that front. But the truth is that Hillary wins on both points A and B. She's not the most charismatic politician in the world, but as we all like to say, we're voting for president, not someone to have a beer with. What's more, I've long admired her tenacity; her ability to withstand decades of crude invective and political destruction derby; and her very obvious, lifelong commitment to using politics as a way of improving people's lives. There have been a million noxious compromises along the way, but that's how politics works in the real world. Plus I'd love to see a woman in the White House.

I like Bernie. I like what he says. If I believed he could do all the stuff he talks about, he'd have my vote. But I don't.

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Why Do So Many People Believe Donald Trump?

| Tue Jan. 26, 2016 12:14 PM EST

I'm sort of bored with the Republican race (and the Democratic race too—about which more later) but I do wonder if a lot of Republicans are getting things fundamentally wrong. Here's Jonah Goldberg:

The level of distrust among many of the different factions of the conservative coalition has never been higher, at least not in my experience. Arguments don't seem to matter, only motives do.

Here's Rush Limbaugh on Friday: “Forget the name is Trump. If a candidate could [guarantee to] fix everything that's wrong in this country the way the Republican Party thinks it's wrong, if it were a slam dunk, if it were guaranteed, that candidate will still be opposed by the Republican Party establishment.... If he's not part of the clique, they don't want him in there.”

In other words, the GOP establishment has become so corrupted, its members would knowingly reject a savior just to protect their comfortable way of life.

This really does get at a key part of Trump's popularity: a lot of people believe him. Hell, I'd almost vote for him if I believed him. We're talking about a guy who says he's going to grow the economy at 6 percent, save Social Security, cut taxes on everyone, get rid of unemployment, crush ISIS, rebuild the military, erase the national debt, and make America great again. And the icing on the cake for conservatives is that he claims to be solidly pro-life, pro-gun, pro-religion, and in favor of nice, right-wing Supreme Court justices like Clarence Thomas. What's not to like? A few minor deviations from movement conservatism? That's piffle. Why are all those establishment Republicans opposed to him?

There are reasons, of course. But primary among them is that no one with a 3-digit IQ believes he can do this stuff. Lots of it is flatly impossible, and the rest is politically impossible. And if you don't believe Trump, then he's just a charlatan with nothing left except bad qualities: he's erratic, narcissistic, boorish, racist, thin-skinned, ideologically unreliable, opportunistic, etc. etc. It's pretty obvious why you'd oppose him.

So, really, it all comes down to whether you believe Donald Trump can do the stuff he says. It's pretty plain that he can't. So why do so many people think he can? That's the $64 trillion question.

Only a Week to Go Before the Republican Race Starts for Real

| Tue Jan. 26, 2016 11:35 AM EST

With only a week to go, here's the latest poll aggregate for the Republican caucuses in Iowa. No surprise: it's a two-man race between Trump and Cruz, with Trump still holding the lead. But it's close enough that turnout is probably going to be the deciding factor. Can Trump get his supporters to the caucus sites? Or will they turn out to be just a bunch of grumblers who'd rather yell at the TV than brave the rain and snow to vote for their guy? Monday will tell the story.

Sting Video Creator Indicted on Charges of Tampering With Federal Documents

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 8:20 PM EST

Huh:

A county grand jury here that was investigating allegations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood has instead indicted two anti-abortion activists who made videos of the organization.

In a statement, the Harris County district attorney, Devon Anderson, said Monday that the director of the Center for Medical Progress, David Daleiden, had been indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs.

....Ms. Anderson said in the statement that grand jurors had cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. She did not specify in the statement what record or records were allegedly tampered with.

I wonder what this is all about? There's not enough detail to know if these are serious charges or just a bit of petty harassment.

Quote of the Day: The Simple, Ever-So-Simple World of Donald Trump

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 6:38 PM EST

Behold the business acumen of Donald Trump:

Donald Trump says he's unfazed by the prospect of running against Michael Bloomberg....At one point, Trump cast doubt on Bloomberg's business success, suggesting that the head of the Bloomberg media empire wasn't actually worth the $36.5 billion estimated by Forbes. "I don't believe it, I don't believe it," Trump said.

"I mean if somebody came in...and comes up with a better machine than him, people stop using it," Trump said. "I don't even know why other companies haven't come up with a better machine. I mean why? It's so simple."

This comes from a man who managed to run into the ground an airline, a hotel, a casino empire, and an endless series of late-night shills. But he apparently has no idea why Bloomberg terminals are popular, nor any idea that Bloomberg has a number of large competitors. Compare to this:

"I mean if somebody came in...and builds a better car than Toyota, people stop buying them. I don't even know why other companies haven't come up with a better car. I mean why? It's so simple."

This is the same man who says it's "so simple" to get Mexico to pay for a wall and force China to stop devaluing its currency; that he would "totally succeed" in creating jobs, reducing the budget deficit, stopping nuclear weapons in Iran, and saving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; that it's "easy" to get OPEC to produce more oil; and that it's "very simple" to get ISIS to surrender.

Now you understand why Trump thinks everything is easy. It's because he has no idea what goes into any of this stuff. Every time he tries to do something that's even slightly out of his wheelhouse (namely property development and bluster) he fails miserably, but he still thinks everything is easy. And his fans believe him.

Raw Data: Lead Poisoning of Kids in Flint

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 5:48 PM EST

I wanted to get a read on historical levels of lead poisoning of children in Flint, Michigan, so I put together the chart on the right. There's no consistent data available for the entire 20-year period, but I think I made fairly reasonable extrapolations from the data available.1 What you see is very steady and impressive progress from 1998 to 2013, with the number of children showing elevated blood lead levels (above 5 micrograms per deciliter) declining from approximately 50 percent to 3.6 percent.

Then Flint stopped using Detroit water and switched to Flint River water, which corroded the scale on their lead pipes and allowed lead to leach into the water. The number of children with elevated lead levels rose to 5.1 percent and then 6.4 percent.

In late 2015, Flint switched back to Detroit water. Preliminary testing suggests that this had a beneficial effect: the number of children with elevated lead levels dropped back to 3.0 percent. However, these numbers are still very tentative, so take them with a grain of salt.

UPDATE: I've added a line that shows the percentage of children with lead levels above 10 m/d. I wouldn't want my kids to have anything above 5 m/d, but 10 is where things really start to get scary.

1Here are my data sources and extrapolations. For early years, only data for children above 10 m/d was available, but later years showed both 10 m/d and 5 m/d, which suggests a rough factor of 6x between the two. Also, some years only show data for Genesee County, but other years show both Genesee and Flint, which suggests that Flint levels are about 1.6x higher than Genesee.

  • 1998-2000: From Michigan Department of Health & Human Services chart here, extrapolated from Michigan ---> Flint (factor = 0.87) and 10 m/d ---> 5 m/d (factor = 6x)
  • 2001-2004: From 2005 MDHHS report here, page 54, extrapolated from 10 m/d ---> 5 m/d
  • 2005-13: From MDHHS data here.
  • 2014: From Hurley Medical center data here, adjusted for Genesee ---> Flint (factor = 1.6)
  • 2015: From Hurley Medical center data here, slides 10-11, adjusted for Genesee ---> Flint.
  • 2016: From preliminary MDHHS data for post-switch levels here.

Full spreadsheet here.

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Here's What Passes For a Brilliant Jailbreak In Orange County

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 2:40 PM EST

My hometown of Orange County isn't in the news much, so it's a little sad that our latest brush with fame is the escape of three inmates from the central jail in Santa Ana. Here's the long version of how they did it:

And here's the short version: They cut out a vent cover and climbed to the roof. Then they rappelled down by tying together a bunch of sheets. This is what passes for brilliant in Orange County. Sigh.

How Big a Dick Is Ted Cruz? A Quiz.

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 1:14 PM EST

Against my better judgment sometimes, I have focused most of my campaign reporting energy on making the case against Donald Trump. But there are other candidates out there who are plenty loathsome in their own way, and when you say the word "loathsome" Ted Cruz comes immediately to mind.

Over at the mothership, Tim Murphy and David Corn make the case that Ted is really one of the all-time huge pricks. Take this quiz first to test your knowledge of Cruzology, and then go read it.

  1. Did one of Ted's former pastors say that "he pretty much memorized the Bible, but I think he did it mostly so that he could humiliate kids who got quotes wrong"?
  2. Did a veteran of the 2000 George Bush campaign say that "the quickest way for a meeting to end would be for Ted to come in"?
  3. Did Ted's wife once admit that Ted "can be a bit of a jackass sometimes, but at least you know where he's coming from"?
  4. Did Bob Dole say that Ted "doesn't have any friends in Congress"?
  5. Did Mitch McConnell respond that "I'm pretty sure Dole is wrong, but I can't figure out who his one friend is"?
  6. Did a John McCain advisor say that his boss "fucking hates Cruz"?
  7. Did President Obama once get overheard asking Joe Biden "what in God's name is that asshole's problem, anyway"?
  8. Did Rep. Peter King say about a possible Ted Cruz nomination, "I hope that day never comes; I will jump off that bridge when we come to it"?
  9. Did John Boehner quip that Ted was "a great American resource; when we threatened to deport him back to Canada, they suddenly agreed to drop their softwood lumber subsidies"?
  10. Did Lindsey Graham say the choice between Trump and Cruz was like having to choose between "death by being shot or poisoning"?
  11. Did a former high school teacher just shake his head and close his door when a reporter knocked and asked what he remembered about Ted?
  12. Did a former law school acquaintance say that when she agreed to carpool with Ted, "We hadn't left Manhattan before he asked my IQ"?
  13. Did Ted's torts professor remark that "I don't think there was a single question I asked the entire year where Ted didn't instantly raise his hand and practically wet his pants pleading to be called on"?
  14. Did his Princeton freshman roommate call Ted "a nightmare of a human being" and claim he would get invited to parties hosted by seniors because the upperclassmen pitied him?
  15. Did a college girlfriend of Ted's say "he was pretty smart, but sex with him once was enough—if you can call it sex"?
  16. Is it true that in interviews with four of Ted's college acquaintances, "four independently offered the word 'creepy'"?

Answer: All statements whose ordinal number takes the integer form 2n+1 or 2n-1 have been invented. The rest are real

Take It Easy on Hillary Clinton and the 1994 Crime Bill

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 11:51 AM EST

A few days ago Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that he was disappointed in Bernie Sanders' opposition to reparations, which I thought was unfair given Coates' own equivocal position in his epic 2014 Atlantic cover story. However, I didn't bother suggesting that it was unfair to pick on Sanders and not Hillary Clinton. Coates made it clear that he was disappointed in Sanders because Sanders is a radical and still doesn't support reparations. Fair or not, that made sense, so I skipped it.

I was largely alone in this. By far the biggest criticism leveled at Coates has been precisely the fact that he didn't mention Clinton even though she plainly doesn't support reparations either. In a campaign season, I suppose that's inevitable, and Coates defends himself here. But this goes too far:

Voters, and black voters particularly, should never forget that Bill Clinton passed arguably the most immoral “anti-crime” bill in American history, and that Hillary Clinton aided its passage through her invocation of the super-predator myth.

There are two big problems here. First, the 1994 crime bill was supported by most black leaders at the time.1 It was addressing a real problem, and no one at the time knew that violent crime was already starting a historic two-decade drop. Despite that, both Bill and Hillary Clinton now acknowledge that the crime bill was flawed, especially the carceral aspects. I don't imagine this is an argument that's ever going to be resolved, but for all the bill's faults, I think it's (a) unfair to use hindsight and hyperbole ("most immoral in American history") to vilify the actions of people 20 years ago who had legitimate reasons to think they were in the middle of a huge social problem, and (b) even more unfair to suggest the bill was central to the problem of mass incarceration. The vast majority of the carceral state had been put in place long before.

Second, suggesting that Hillary Clinton aided the passage of the 1994 crime bill via a speech she gave in 1996 speaks for itself. Hate Clinton all you want, but she hasn't invented time travel.

1And, as several people have reminded me, by congressman Bernie Sanders.

Here Is Today's Viral Correction

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 11:11 AM EST

I don't usually go in for funny corrections, but this one in the Daily Beast deserves the attention it's getting:

Correction: A previous version of the story indicated that Liz Mair would prefer a “dry dog turd” for president over either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. She would only prefer the turd to Trump.

Glad we got that cleared up. It makes sense, given this author squib at the end of the most recent piece she wrote for the Daily Beast:

Liz Mair is an advocate for immigration reform, an opponent of ethanol mandates and subsidies, and an opponent of Donald Trump.

You could say that. More here and here. Normal Monday blogging will commence shortly. Then again, Maybe this is normal Monday blogging these days.