Kevin Drum

Donald Trump Once Again Shows That He's Probably Never Cracked Open a Bible in His Life

| Wed Sep. 23, 2015 11:17 AM EDT

David Brody asks Donald Trump, "Who is God to you?...You’ve contemplated this before, or have you contemplated this?” Here's his reply:

Here we are on the Pacific Ocean. How did I ever own this? I bought it fifteen years ago. I made one of the great deals they say ever. I have no more mortgage on it as I will certify and represent to you. And I was able to buy this and make a great deal. That’s what I want to do for the country. Make great deals. We have to, we have to bring it back....

Wait. A question about God produces a stock speech about what a great dealmaker Trump is? Yep. Then this:

....but God is the ultimate. I mean God created this [points to his golf course and nature surrounding it], and here’s the Pacific Ocean right behind us. So nobody, no thing, no there’s nothing like God.

"There's nothing like God." Okey doke. It sounds like Brody has his answer: Trump has not, in fact, ever contemplated the nature of God.

Brody defends Trump's lack of a "biblically thorough answer" and says that Trump may well appeal anyway to the "I'm Sick and Tired" evangelical voter. That's good to know. I had no idea that it was so easy to appeal to evangelical voters. Using the Trump metric, I think I could do pretty well myself. I guess all I have to do is denounce abortion and praise the Bible as the best book ever written. That sounds easy.

You know, to this day it remains part of conservative legend that a Washington Post article 20 years ago described evangelicals as "largely poor, uneducated and easily led." It's one of the seminal wellsprings of white Christian grievance culture. I don't happen to know if evangelicals, on average, are poor and uneducated compared to the rest of us, but if Brody's take on Trump is correct, it sure seems as though "easily led" was right on the mark.

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Did the State Department Throw Hillary Clinton Under the Bus?

| Wed Sep. 23, 2015 3:48 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton's emails are once again the subject of a front-page story, this time in the Washington Post. And once again, I'm mystified by what the point is supposed to be. I've read tonight's story three times trying to figure it out.

The entire piece is based on a statement the State Department sent to the Post explaining why they originally asked for Hillary's emails. Supposedly this statement "undercuts" Hillary's own explanation, which she's offered on multiple occasions. But does it? Here are the competing explanations as written by the Post:

Hillary Clinton

“When we were asked to help the State Department make sure they had everything from other secretaries of state, not just me, I’m the one who said, ‘Okay, great, I will go through them again,’ ” Clinton said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And we provided all of them.”

State Department

“In the process of responding to congres­sional document requests pertaining to Benghazi, State Department officials recognized that it had access to relatively few email records from former Secretary Clinton,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement e-mailed to The Washington Post....Kirby added that the agency then recognized “that we similarly did not have extensive email records from prior Secretaries of State and therefore included them when we requested their records in October 2014.”

Hillary Clinton doesn't say anything here about why the State Department asked for her emails—though it was hardly a secret that they were responding to obsessive congressional inquiries about Benghazi. What she did say is that State also asked three other former secretaries for their emails, which is what the State Department says as well.

There's also alleged to be a "discrepancy" between Hillary's timetable and State's. But what is it? Apparently State first contacted Hillary informally in July, at which point one of her aides retrieved the emails and began going through them to decide which ones were official and which were personal. In October, State officially asked four former secretaries (Clinton, Rice, Powell, and Albright) to provide their email records. Hillary provided hers in December.

I don't get it. I'm not seeing the problem with this. Hillary's staff began the process of retrieving emails as soon as they first heard from State, and turned them over within a few months. What's the issue supposed to be here?

In any case, the truly gobsmacking thing here has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton. Can you figure out what it is?

“In the process of responding to congressional document requests pertaining to Benghazi, State Department officials recognized that it had access to relatively few email records from former Secretary Clinton,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement....Kirby added that the agency then recognized “that we similarly did not have extensive email records from prior Secretaries of State and therefore included them when we requested their records in October 2014.”

....The early call from the State Department [in July] is a sign that, at the least, officials in the agency she led from 2009 to 2013 were concerned by the practice [of using a private email server] — and that they had been caught off guard upon discovering her exclusive use of a private account.

....State Department staffers were trying to figure out where her work e-mails were stored and how they might try to assemble them, one official said. Clinton turned over copies of about 30,000 work-related e-mails to the department in December.

Holy crap. In 2014, the State Department suddenly realized that it had very few email records from secretaries going back to Madeleine Albright. Two years after Hillary had left office, they were trying to figure out where her emails were stored. This very much does not suggest to me that they were "caught off guard" by Hillary's use of a private server. Rather, it suggests only that the State staffers responding to the congressional inquiries didn't happen to know that Hillary used a private server. More importantly, it also suggests that for well over a decade, (a) the department had no oversight of emails sent and received by Secretaries of State, (b) didn't really care about these emails, (c) didn't archive them, and (d) had no idea where they might be. It happens to be Benghazi that finally got them to start checking on this, but that's irrelevant. It could have been anything.

The real question here is why, for nearly 20 years, the State Department seemingly had no real policies about and—apparently—no real interest in preservation of official emails from Secretaries of State. Seriously, folks?

Texting Can Save Your Life (Seriously)

| Wed Sep. 23, 2015 12:37 AM EDT

This comes via Dr. Aaron Carroll, who headlines his post, "Texting people actually gets them to improve their modifiable risk factors." I decided on a punchier version. Was I justified? You be the judge.

Here's the background: A team of 15 researchers recruited a group of 710 patients with coronary heart disease. Half of the patients got the usual treatment. The other half got the usual treatment plus one other thing: four text messages each week reminding them to exercise, eat right, quit smoking, etc. That's it. Patients did not respond to the messages. They just received them.

Common sense and all previous research suggests that this would have almost no effect, even with a highly motivated population like this. Here's Carroll:

Let’s take a pause here. If you had asked me to bet, I would have put all the money in my pocket on this being a negative trial. I mean, random text messages? That’s all? One-way communication? No way this would make a difference.

I was wrong. LDL cholesterol was 5 points lower in those in the intervention (79 mg/dL versus 84), and it started higher in the intervention group. Systolic blood pressure was 8 points lower (128 mm Hg versus 136). BMI was 1.3 points lower (28 versus 30.3). Physical activity was way up (936 metabolic equivalent task minutes per week versus 643), and the percentage of people smoking was way down (26% versus 43%).

These results are so spectacular that they cry out for replication. Offhand, I'd note two possible reasons for tentative skepticism:

  • This was a group of people already highly primed to change their lifestyles. How well would this work on people who weren't staring death in the face?
  • The trial lasted only six months. It's one thing for an intervention to get people motivated for a short period. It's quite another to keep them motivated when their enthusiasm flags and the text messages start to become routine and therefore mostly ignored.

Nonetheless, this is pretty interesting. I'm honestly not sure that I want to give the medical establishment yet another medium they can use to bombard me with well-meaning advice, but then, I'm a grouch. If this stuff improves outcomes even modestly when done right, then it's worth doing. And Republican presidential candidates take note: it costs next to nothing. Put it in your next healthcare white paper!

Scott Baio Got a Great Birthday Present Today

| Tue Sep. 22, 2015 9:47 PM EDT

Good news! A judge has ruled that "Happy Birthday To You" isn't copyrighted after all:

[Warner/Chappell Music] had been enforcing its copyright claim since it paid $15 million to buy Birch Tree Group, the successor to Clayton F. Summy Co., which owned the original copyright. Royalties on the song bring in about $2 million a year for Warner, according to some estimates. Judge George H. King ruled Tuesday afternoon that a copyright filed by the Summy Co. in 1935 granted only the rights to specific arrangements of the music, not the actual song itself.

Why is this such great news? Because it means that chain restaurants can now stop singing all those dreadful birthday songs they've invented as a way of avoiding royalty payments. These "songs" usually go something like this:

Happy Birthday
Thump thump thump
Happy happy happy
Clap clap clap
Another year, another cheer
Clap thump clap thump clap clap clap thump
Yay whistle clap clap hoorah yay

This is just dreadful. Judge King has rendered a service to mankind—unless he gets reversed on appeal, of course.

Alternatively, Warner/Chappell Music could do a service for mankind and just relinquish the copyright voluntarily. Do they really care about the measly $2 million per year? Come on, Warner. Do the right thing.

Health Update

| Tue Sep. 22, 2015 3:05 PM EDT

Do you want a quick summary or all the gory details? The details, of course. Because, really, what's better than listening to an acquaintance ramble on about their health issues?

So: My M-protein marker test—a good proxy for the level of cancerous bone marrow cells—is down from 0.72 last month to 0.63 this month. This is the right direction, but not the right magnitude. So we're going to increase my Revlimid maintenance from 10 mg to 15 mg. This puts at me at a slightly higher risk of blood clots, which means that I will also be starting a daily baby aspirin regimen.

Blood clots aside, the main side effect of the Revlimid is that it weakens your immune system. This is measured primarily by looking at your neutrophil count. Yours is probably around 5000 or so. Mine is now down to 1800. Anything above 1000 is OK, but obviously this is getting close to worrisome. So now we're doing a balancing act: we want to use the highest dose of Revlimid that still keeps me out of the immune system red zone. It will take several months to figure out what that is.

And speaking of this, it turns out that following the stem cell transplant I now have what's effectively a baby immune system. This means that in a month or so I'll start going through all the usual baby immunizations. Not all, actually, but a bunch. Fun.

On a positive note, apparently my bones are in good enough shape that I'll be allowed to do strenuous stuff if my back fully recovers. So that's something to look forward to. Assuming my back ever fully recovers, of course.

And finally, a test to see if my sister reads all the way to the end: I now have permission to clean the cat litter box. So you don't need to come over tonight.

VW Admits to Emissions Fraud in 11 Million Vehicles

| Tue Sep. 22, 2015 2:48 PM EDT

Wow. It's not just half a million cars in the United States. It turns out that Volkswagen installed its emissions cheating software in 11 million cars worldwide, mostly in Europe:

The German automaker said it was setting aside the equivalent of half a year’s profits — 6.5 billion euros, or about $7.3 billion — to cover the cost of fixing the cars to comply with pollution standards and to cover other expenses, which are likely to include fines as well as responses to civil lawsuits from angry customers.

$7.3 billion is just the start of things for VW. This is going to end up costing them a lot more than that. And when you count in lost sales, who knows? This could be a life-threatening event for them.

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Housekeeping Note

| Tue Sep. 22, 2015 10:03 AM EDT

I'll be up in LA this morning seeing one of my rotating cast of doctors, so no blogging today. I may put up an item or two later in the day.

Does France Control What American Internet Users Are Allowed to See?

| Tue Sep. 22, 2015 1:21 AM EDT

We all saw this coming eventually, but here's the latest on Europe's ill-considered "right to be forgotten":

French data protection regulators on Monday rejected Google's bid to appeal an order that requires the company to block French results removed under Europe's "right to be forgotten" from all of Google's sites.

....An order from France's Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés, or CNIL, earlier this summer required Google to remove requests results from all versions, including, but the company appealed.

A Google spokesman said that the company was trying to cooperate with European authorities, "But as a matter of principle, we respectfully disagree with the idea that a single national Data Protection Authority should determine which Web pages people in other countries can access via search engines."

Well, yeah. There's just no way that a French regulator can force Google to censor results on an American website. The reason should be pretty obvious, even to a French data protection agency: If France can do this, every other country can do it too. It's not hyperbole to say that this would be the end of the internet as we know it. Like it or not, it's just not a tenable position.

So now this gets appealed to EU courts, and hopefully they'll display some common sense. If they don't, I'm not sure what happens. No other country will allow France to unilaterally dictate what their citizens are and aren't allowed to have access to, so in the end the French won't get their way. They just won't. They can block sites in their own country, as the Chinese do, but practically speaking that's all they can do.

If that's how this ends up, the result would be a class-divided internet in France. Smart, well-educated folks would be relatively unaffected. They all know—or would quickly figure out—how to connect with and would routinely get the full story when they ran a search. Conversely, the unwashed masses mostly wouldn't know how to do this and would obliviously continue to use, not knowing that, unlike their elite countrymen, they were seeing an expurgated version of the world. Maybe that would be OK in France. I don't know. But it doesn't sound like a great way to run a country to me.

Quote of the Day: Carly's Ex Doesn't Think Much of Her Chances

| Tue Sep. 22, 2015 12:46 AM EDT

From Todd Bartlem, Carly Fiorina's first husband, on the GOP presidential race:

In the clown car that is the Republican Party, she's the ultimate clown.

In fairness, if we took the opinions of exes seriously, very few of us would look good. Still, I suspect that Carly may be a pretty reliable generator of quotes of the day for a while. Not from her, mind you, but from people who know her.

This all comes from a piece written a few months ago by Bloomberg's Melinda Henneberger, who also highlights one of the things that bugs me the most about Fiorina: her "secretary to CEO" schtick. She likes to leave the impression that she was some kind of real-life Melanie Griffith, who was stuck taking messages for second-rate men until she eventually proved her savvy and clawed her way to the top against all odds.

Please. Her father was dean of Duke's law school and an appellate judge. She graduated from Stanford. She attended UCLA law school before deciding law wasn't for her. She did work as a receptionist for a few months after that, but it was just a short bit of downtime while she dithered about what to do with her life. When the dithering was over, she spent a couple of years getting an MBA and then started at AT&T as a management trainee.

So don't believe the nonsense about Fiorina bootstrapping herself up from the steno pool. She was a daughter of privilege; well traveled, very smart, and educated at an elite university; and bound for some kind of top-tier job practically from the cradle. It's still a testament to her skills and work ethic that she ended up getting so far, and the real story ought to be more than good enough for her. But I guess she thinks the log cabin version sounds better.

The Fat Lady Finally Sings for Scott Walker

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 9:47 PM EDT

Scott Walker, low on funds and polling at zero percent, has dropped out of the Republican race for president. Let's see now, what did I say about Walker late last year? Oh yes:

Predictions are hard, especially about the future. But if he runs, I rate Walker a favorite right now.

If I'd been smart, I would have stopped at "future." In my defense, (a) this is a hard race to predict, and (b) who would have guessed that Walker would be quite as incompetent on the campaign trail as he turned out to be? At this point, I guess I'd go with the obvious and put my money on Bush or Rubio. The non-office-holders still don't seem plausible to me; the Cruz/Huckabee/Paul contingent is just too extreme; Kasich seems too moderate; and the rest are mired in nowhereville. But really, who knows?

For what it's worth, I think Walker was a victim of Donald Trump. My sense is that he thought he had the tea party base locked up, and then Trump came along and took it by storm without displaying any kind of normal conservative ideology. So whenever a topic popped up in the news, Walker froze. He knew the "right" response, but Trump was constantly out there stealing the spotlight by saying something different and outrageous. What to do? Spout the usual tea party shibboleths? Or go along with the Trump response that seemed to have everyone so excited? He couldn't make up his mind, so he regularly declined to take any position at all—only to clumsily change his mind a day or two later.

This was the worst possible thing to do, since it made him look completely unprepared for the presidency. If he can't even come up with a simple sound bite about Syrian refugees or how to beat ISIS, what's he going to do if he actually makes it to the Oval Office? In the end, he couldn't figure out what to do about Donald Trump, and he paid dearly for it.

But at least there's one thing we don't have to speculate about: who will pick up all of Walker's supporters. There aren't any left.