Kevin Drum

Ted Cruz vs. Donald Trump: Who Is the Least Charitable?

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 1:16 PM EST

McKay Coppins tells us that Ted Cruz is "facing questions" about his lack of entirely Christ-like generosity:

In a series of interviews this week, political opponents and pastors alike suggested Cruz — an avowed Baptist who is aggressively courting evangelical voters — has flouted the Biblical commandment of tithing in his personal life....According to personal tax returns released during his 2012 Senate bid, Cruz contributed less than 1% of his income to charity between 2006 and 2010 — a far cry from the 10% most evangelical leaders believe the Bible demands.

Well, Ted had all those loans from Goldman Sachs to pay off, so he probably didn't have much to spare for tithing. Anyway, those loans were used for the greatest possible gift to the Lord: Ted Cruz's ascension to the Senate.

Of course, Cruz is Mother Teresa compared to his competition:

Tax filings of the Donald J. Trump foundation show Trump has made no charitable contributions to his own namesake nonprofit since 2008. Without an endowment, the fund has continued to give grants only as a result of contributions from others.

....Pressed by the AP on the details of his contributions, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks provided a partial list of donations that appeared to correspond with the foundation's gifts — indicating that Trump may be counting other people's charitable giving as his own.

"I give to hundreds of charities and people in need of help," Trump said in an emailed response to questions from the AP about how he tallied his own philanthropy. "It is one of the things I most like doing and one of the great reasons to have made a lot of money." The Trump campaign did not respond to a request that it identify donations that Trump himself gave.

More here. Obviously Trump is lying about this, but that's hardly even noteworthy anymore. As near as I can tell, he's congenitally unable to tell the truth about anything related to his finances. I mean, this is a guy who's using other people's money for his supposedly self-funded campaign and who claims to this day that he did great with his Atlantic City casinos.

But he's somehow invulnerable anyway. As best I can figure it, Trump (a) never goes to church, (b) has never read the Bible, (c) is unusually stingy, and (d) lives a personal life of serial affairs with younger women followed by serial divorces. But somehow lots of evangelicals think he's a Godly man anyway.

Cruz, on the other hand, is the son of a guy who runs the Purifying Fire International ministry—a preacher so evangelical he seems ready to explode at times. Cruz went to a Baptist high school; he talks about religion interminably; and he attends church regularly. But somehow lots of evangelicals have abandoned him for Trump.

Strange times.

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Giant Supernova May Be Due to Cloud of Star Smithereens

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 12:25 PM EST

It's been a big week for astro-scientist types. First a gigantic supernova, then a ninth planet. We have yet to confirm the planet, but a team of scientists has now suggested a possible explanation for the supernova: a fast spinning magnetar.

When researchers announced confirmation of the record-breaking stellar explosion ASASSN-15lh last week, they mused that such a star, called a magnetar, wasn’t enough to explain the supernova’s unusual brightness. To create the energy seen in this explosion, the magnetar’s core would have to be spinning so fast that it would break apart.

But a new analysis using more detailed calculations claims it could happen, if powerful magnetic fields interacted with a big enough cloud of star smithereens.

....Previous calculations suggested that any star that could produce as much energy as ASASSN-15lh, which would outshine the moon if it were in our galaxy, wouldn’t survive long enough to become a magnetar. But now Melina Bersten of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council in Argentina and her colleagues suggest that the stellar corpse that remains after the explosion could pump extra energy into a cloud of gas surrounding it, and produce the superluminous supernova discovered last summer....That cloud of stellar leftovers would have to be pretty extreme, though: at least six times the mass of the sun.

Star smithereens? Is that a real word? Somebody help me out here.

Raw Data: The Undocumented Immigrant Population in the US Is Down Yet Again

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 11:55 AM EST

I don't have any real comment about this. It's just raw data for those who are interested. Illegal immigration into the US has been declining ever since 2008 and declined yet again in 2014, according to the Center for Migration Studies. The full report is here.

Conservative Anger Over Immigration Isn't That Complicated

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 10:48 AM EST

Ramesh Ponnuru writes today that Nikki Haley has paid a price for her squishy stance on immigration:

For these comments, she was denounced in some quarters as a moderate who had declared war on her own party’s strongest supporters. Both the speech and the reaction offer more evidence that immigration control is becoming a more important, and defining, issue for conservatives.

Why the issue has become central is less clear. It's not because the problem of illegal immigration is growing; it has fallen in recent years. But that decline has coincided with at least seven factors that have raised the political importance of immigration for the right.

Low economic growth.....Demographic changes among Republicans....The growth of the immigrant population....The unresponsiveness of elites....Partisan politics....The progress of arguments among conservatives....Cascading effects.

I don't get this. In 2007 George Bush tried to pass an immigration bill, but the conservative base rose up in anger and killed it. In 2013 Barack Obama tried to pass an immigration bill, but the conservative base rose up in anger and killed it. Basically, conservative skepticism of immigration has been growing ever since 1986, when Reagan's immigration bill offered amnesty to millions but failed to reduce the flow of immigrants across the southern border.

Ponnuru may or may not be right about the reasons for conservative anger—I suspect that culture shock and outright racism are the most likely causes, just as they are in lots of other countries—but there really shouldn't be any surprise about this. The conservative base has been outraged about illegal immigration for at least a decade, and probably longer. Now that Obama is explicitly trying to outmaneuver them and broaden amnesty using executive orders, they're even more outraged, and folks like Donald Trump are exploiting that. There's really no need to make it any more complicated.

Why Is Flint's Water Still Unsafe? Or Is It?

| Wed Jan. 20, 2016 9:51 PM EST

Can someone help me out? Flint reconnected to the Detroit water system in October, and it was supposed to take a few weeks after that to clean out the pipes. So what happened? I keep seeing pallets of bottled water being delivered to Flint, but shouldn't the tap water be safe by now? Has it been tested for lead levels in the past month or two? I've been trying to check this out, but I can't seem to find anything definitive.

I feel like I must have missed something. I don't know how hard a thorough round of testing is, but it sure seems like that would have been a top priority starting in early November. Is it being done?

UPDATE: Here's the answer:

  • Over time, the lead pipes in Flint built up a protective mineral coating—or scale—that prevented lead from getting into the water.
  • During the 17 months it was used, acidic water from the Flint River corroded away the scale, exposing fresh metal.
  • Even if the water is now good, it's going to take a while before the scale rebuilds. In the meantime, lead can still leach into the water.

Back in December, the Flint Utilities Director announced that they planned to boost the level of phosphates in the water to aid in rebuilding the scale. They also hired a firm to begin testing of high-risk homes. Normally it can take up to five years for scale to rebuild, but presumably the additional phosphates will reduce this time. Still, it might be quite a while before the water is safe again, which explains the continuing pallets of bottled water.

Republicans Refuse to Vote on Banning Muslims From US

| Wed Jan. 20, 2016 8:42 PM EST

House Republicans have passed a bill to ban refugees from Syria and Iraq, and today it was up for debate in the Senate:

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) slammed the refugee bill but said Democrats would allow it to advance if they could offer four amendments, including one aimed at Trump that would put senators on record about whether there should be a religious test for anyone entering the country.

....Senate Republicans declined Reid’s offer and Democrats blocked the refugee legislation....Earlier this month, Reid said he will use every opportunity to try to force Senate votes on policies touted by Trump. This drew a warning from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that he would counter by holding votes on campaign promises made by Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

I know this is all just political theater, but it's still pretty entertaining. I wonder if voting for Trump policies would actually hurt Republicans? I wonder if voting against Trump policies would hurt Republicans? I guess we'll never know.

Anyway, this is what things have come to: Faced with a ridiculous amendment that would ban Muslims from visiting America, Republicans are afraid to just vote No and then move along. They're scared that their base would hold it against them. Amazing.

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Why Are #OscarsSoWhite?

| Wed Jan. 20, 2016 7:00 PM EST

The answer to the question in the headline is easy: because Academy voters are mostly white senior citizens (94 percent white, average age 63) and their taste tends to be pretty conventional for white folks born in 1952. At least that's what all the critics say. This explains, they say, why a great film like Straight Outta Compton didn't get nominated. A bunch of old white guys just aren't going to be moved by a film about an angry group of black gangsta rappers.

But what about the critics themselves? According to Hayley Munguia of FiveThirtyEight, here are the 20 films from 2015 that showed up on the most "Best Of" lists. The movies in red got Oscar nods:

Where's Straight Outta Compton? Not in the top 20.1 Apparently the critics are a bunch of old white guys too.

Next up: maybe Munguia will compile similar lists for the acting categories. Who did the critics love? Did Idris Elba make the top 20? Michael Jordan? Tessa Thompson? O'Shea Jackson Jr? Teyonah Parris? I'm curious about whether the critics ought to be examining themselves as much as they're examining the Academy.

1Only two movies not in the top 20 got Best Picture nominations. Revenant may have gotten released too late to make many lists. And Bridge of Spies didn't deserve to be in the top 20, but probably got nominated because everyone loves Tom Hanks.

Sarah Palin Is Such a Creep

| Wed Jan. 20, 2016 2:52 PM EST

I know I said that last night's Palin-palooza would "hold me for a year," but I guess I was wrong. Palin's son Track was arrested Monday on domestic violence charges, and today Palin addressed this:

My own family, my son, a combat vet having served in the Stryker brigade... my son like so many others, they come back a bit different, they come back hardened, they come back wondering if there is that respect... and that starts right at the top.

I'm not happy with liberals who use Track's problems as a way of snickering at Sarah. Yes, when you use your kids as campaign props, you open yourself up to some of this. But parents do their best, and kids sometimes have problems. Whatever Track's problems are, he and his family should be allowed to deal with them in their own way.

That said, if you decide to use your son's problems as a political cudgel, you can hardly expect to others to hold back forever. Palin should be ashamed of herself.

But leave Track alone anyway. He doesn't deserve outsize attention just because his mother is such a creep. I only hope he gets the help he pretty obviously needs.

Scientists Discover "Most Planet-y" Planet in the Solar System

| Wed Jan. 20, 2016 1:29 PM EST

Oh FFS. We just demoted Pluto because it was too small and didn't do a real planet's job of taking out the orbital trash, but now the boffins at Caltech are claiming we have a ninth planet after all. It's a gazillion miles away, but apparently it's big enough to "clear the neighborhood" and thus qualify as a real planet.

If it's real, that is. So far its existence has merely been inferred from gravitational anomalies in Kuiper Belt objects:

The object, which the researchers have nicknamed Planet Nine [ed note: clever!], has a mass about 10 times that of Earth and orbits about 20 times farther from the sun on average than does Neptune...."This would be a real ninth planet," says [Mike] Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy....Brown notes that the putative ninth planet—at 5,000 times the mass of Pluto—is sufficiently large that there should be no debate about whether it is a true planet....In fact, it dominates a region larger than any of the other known planets—a fact that Brown says makes it "the most planet-y of the planets in the whole solar system."

Ooh. The "most planet-y" object in the solar system! And how do they infer its existence? With sciencey stuff like this:

Well, I'll believe it when I see it. Or, rather, when I see a digitally enhanced CCD image that's been fed into the maw of a supercomputer, thus allowing scientists to assure me at a 5-sigma level that a certain gray pixel has met rigorous statistical tests and really is Planet Nine. After all, seeing is believing.

By the way, if we ever mount an expedition to Planet Nine, it should be pretty interesting. Here's what I expect we'll find:

Global Warming Went On a Rampage in 2015

| Wed Jan. 20, 2016 12:17 PM EST

Remember that old chestnut, the climate chart that starts in 1998 and makes it look like climate change has been on a "pause" ever since? It was always nonsense produced by cherry picking an unusually high starting point, but it was still effective propaganda. But those days are gone for good. 2014 was already considerably warmer than 1998, and last year has now blown away everything in the record books:

The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for 2015 was the highest among all years since record keeping began in 1880. During the final month, the December combined global land and ocean average surface temperature was the highest on record for any month in the 136-year record.

During 2015, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average....This is also the largest margin by which the annual global temperature record has been broken. Ten months had record high temperatures for their respective months during the year. The five highest monthly departures from average for any month on record all occurred during 2015.

George Will is now going to have to find some other way to lie about global warming. I don't doubt that he's up to it, but at least he'll have to work a little harder.