Kevin Drum

Chart of the Day: TV's Schoolboy Crush on Donald Trump Gets Ever More Pathetic

| Wed Jan. 13, 2016 3:02 PM EST

Jim Tankersley reminds me that it's been a month since I took a look a how television was covering the GOP campaign. It's a sad story. After briefly finding solace in a few other candidates, TV is back to mooning over Donald Trump, desperately hoping he'll return their adoring gaze. His daily mentions, once down to a mere 30 percent of all coverage in November, went back up to 50 percent in December, and then shot up to 80 percent when he made up a lie about Muslims dancing in the streets after 9/11. That was all it took. TV news remembered exactly what it is they love so much about Trump: the fact that he treats them like whores who care about nothing but ratings. Ooh baby, it hurts so good. Ever since, he's been back to 60 percent of all mentions, with everyone else duking it out for whatever crumbs are left over.

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Donald Trump Sure Does Like People Who Make the Trains Run on Time

| Wed Jan. 13, 2016 1:17 PM EST

What does Donald Trump think about dictators and autocrats? Well, they're bad guys, he admits. But that's not all. Let's roll the tape:

North Korea: You've got to give [Kim Jong-un] credit: how many young guys, he was like 26 or 25 when his father died....he goes in, he takes over, he's the boss. It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle, he wiped out this one, that one. This guy doesn't play games and we can't play games with him.

Russia: I'll tell you what, if Putin likes me....If he says something positive, that's a good thing, that's not a bad thing. And: It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond. And: You’re saying he killed people, I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has. Have you been able to prove that? And: He's running his country, and at least he’s a leader. I think our country does plenty of killing also.

Iraq: Look at Iraq....[Saddam Hussein] would kill the terrorists immediately.... I'm not saying he was a nice guy, he was a horrible guy, but it was a lot better than it is right now.

China: When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.

Egypt: Egypt is turning into a hot bed of radical Islam. The current protest is another coup attempt. We should never have abandoned Mubarak.

Syria and Libya: Assad is a bad man. Gadhafi was a bad man. Mubarak had a terrible human rights record. But they were assisting us — at least Gadhafi and Mubarak — in fighting radical Islamic terrorists.

Trump sure does seem to admire anyone who can make the trains run on time, doesn't he?

I'm Sick of Conservatives Being Such Babies

| Wed Jan. 13, 2016 12:22 PM EST

Last night President Obama noted the unremarkable truth that the United States can't try to rebuild every country that falls into crisis. "It's the lesson of Iraq," he said. Over at National Review, Bing West was not amused:

That is insulting to all who fought. What does Mr. Obama say to the families who lost a loved one: they died in a quagmire that weakened us? The lesson of Iraq is that after American troops achieved stability, Mr. Obama quit, leading to a larger war and more American deaths.

Jesus, this pisses me off. Are conservatives ever willing to take responsibility for anything? They destroy the economy and then spend eight years bitching and whining because it's taking Obama so long to dig out of the hole they dug. They sit around spouting tough talk about their "Axis of Evil" but do nothing to stop North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear programs—and then go ballistic when Obama finally does something about it. And after merrily dragging us into the stupidest and most disastrous war in recent memory, they've spent every year since then desperately trying to pin blame for the aftermath on Obama.

They're like small children, ruining everything they touch because the world is a big playground that they govern with their guts instead of their brains. Then they throw temper tantrums when the adults come along and try to clean up the messes they've made.

Calling Iraq by its true name is no insult to anyone. The insult is that people like Bing West were willing to throw American troops into a killing field because they had to take out their post-9/11 rage on someone, and Iraq was handy. It's time to grow up, Bing. You can't remain a child forever, blaming your mistakes on everyone but yourself.

Yep, The Economy Really Is Starting to Deliver Higher Earnings

| Wed Jan. 13, 2016 11:31 AM EST

Paul Krugman posted an interesting chart today, which I've simplified on the right to show only household income. It comes from Sentier Research, which tracks income in a more timely manner than the Census Bureau (though they use Census data). I noted the other day that if you looked at total worker compensation (including things like health insurance), then we'd finally seen a fairly healthy upward trend in 2015. But according to Sentier, even if you look only at ordinary cash income, we've pretty much recovered from the Great Recession. Household income has grown at the rate of 3-4 percent annually for the past two years. It took a long time to get there, but the recovery really does seem to finally be showing up in higher earnings.

This helps explain the sharp upward tick in Gallup's poll about personal satisfaction that I wrote about yesterday: it's because the economy really did start performing better for a lot of people in 2015. Now it's time to try to persuade everyone that the country really isn't going to hell in a handbasket even if Fox News and MSNBC spend every primetime evening telling us otherwise.

Iran Releases American Sailors

| Wed Jan. 13, 2016 10:58 AM EST

Am I the only one this morning who senses that conservatives are pretty disappointed that Iran released our sailors quickly and without any fuss? Maybe I'm just being hypersensitive....

We Are Happier Than Ever, We Are Angrier Than Ever

| Tue Jan. 12, 2016 2:14 PM EST

In a Gallup poll released last week, 85 percent of Americans said they were satisfied with how things were going in their personal life. That's close to an all-time high:

At the same time, only 20 percent are satisfied with how things are going in the United States. That's not an all-time low, but it's in the ballpark:

By historical standards, a 6-point increase in personal satisfaction over the course of a single year is pretty huge. If you look at the past three decades, it represents two-thirds of the range from all-time low to all-time high.

But that hasn't translated into any change in satisfaction with how things are going for the country. A corresponding increase would be something like 40 percentage points. In reality, satisfaction went down in 2015 by about ten points.

There is a story to be written about this massive disconnect. Normally, satisfaction with the country goes up as we recover from recessions. And we have recovered. Employment is up. Inflation is low. Gas prices have dropped. Taxes haven't changed for anyone even close to middle class. Broadly speaking, things are going pretty well.

The usual response at this point is to say that despite all this, wages are stagnant. And that's true. But wages have been pretty stagnant for a long time. What's more, over the past year we've actually started to see them rise a bit. Not a lot, but some.

So what's the deal? Satisfaction with the country started to show normal signs of increase in 2009, but then it suddenly collapsed—and it's stayed low ever since. Why? Has satisfaction with the country become unmoored from economic conditions? Is it all about other hot buttons these days? Are conservatives unhappy because gays are getting married while liberals are unhappy because income inequality is increasing? Have we all somehow conspired to be massively dissatisfied with the state of the country because our side continues to fail to get everything we want? Or what?

We don't live in nirvana. We never have. But by most standards, things are going pretty well. For liberals, we have gay marriage, Obamacare, and better Wall Street regulation. For conservatives, we have Citizens United, continued low taxes, and total control of Congress. For everyone, crime is down, school test scores are up, and terrorists continue to kill virtually no one here in America.

I honestly don't get it. America isn't a utopia, and America isn't a dystopia. It's recovering pretty decently from a huge recession and personal satisfaction with life is high. On other fronts, lots of things are going well and a few aren't. Same as always.

So why all the anger? Can it really be laid at the feet of the media? What's going on?

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We Can All Breathe a Sigh of Relief: Star Wars Toymakers are Not Agents of the Patriarchy

| Tue Jan. 12, 2016 12:18 PM EST

In an apparent effort to prove that you can do data journalism on literally any topic, Leah Libresco examines the merchandising bonanza of the latest Star Wars movie:

The most-recent “Star Wars” Monopoly set did what the villain of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” couldn’t, sidelining Rey, the film’s female protagonist.... Fans signed petitions, wrote letters, and tweeted their outrage using the “#WheresRey” hashtag.... The controversy reached its climax when Hasbro, the maker of the game, said Rey will be represented in new editions.

To see whether Rey’s absence was local to Monopoly or more widespread across all “Force Awakens” toys, I did what any sensible data journalist would do: I went to a toy store. Well, a digital one. Toys R Us lists 256 toys in their online “Force Awakens” store, but only 70 of them include any of the major characters introduced in the new movie. Rey holds her own among this group.

"Rey holds her own"? I guess so. She and Finn are the main heroes of the movie, and they're pretty close in the toy competition. The real news here is a clear anti-human bias: the biggest toy winners are Kylo and Captain Phasma, who spend most or all of the movie in masks, and BB-8, a droid so calculatingly adorable as to bring back involuntary memories of Ewoks.

Anyway, as long as we're on the subject, you've probably all been waiting on the edges of your seats wondering what I thought of the movie. Well, the first week it was too crowded, so I didn't go. I'm too old for standing in line. The next week, the kids were still out of school, and a friend was visiting who had no interest in the movie. The next week, my mother's car broke, so I loaned her mine and had no way to get to the theater. By the time I got my car back, I had come down with a cold and didn't feel like going. So it wasn't until yesterday that I finally I saw it.

And I was stunned. I was prepared for anything from bad to pretty good, but it turned out to be stultifyingly boring. There's nothing "wrong" with SWTFA. The acting is OK. The dialog is OK. The effects are OK. The pacing is OK. The direction is OK. The editing is OK. The characters are OK. As a piece of craft, it's fine. But when you put it all together it's two hours of nothing. And yet, the residents of Earth have spent a billion dollars on tickets! What the hell is wrong with you people?

The movie's big mystery, of course, is "Who is Rey?" The answer is, "Who cares?" Here's my guess: she's a clone constructed from a preserved pubic hair of Obi-Wan Kenobi. We'll find out in the exciting sequel!

Anyway, JJ Abrams has now ruined Lost. He's ruined Star Trek. And he's ruined Star Wars. He's a one-man wrecking crew. But there's a silver lining: at least I can now say with confidence that I'll never waste money seeing a JJ Abrams production again.

And now for the worst part. I never thought it was possible I'd say this, but I have marginally more respect for George Lucas's prequels now. They may have sucked, but at least he tried.

Map of the Day: We Have Met the Enemy, and the Enemy is Squirrels

| Tue Jan. 12, 2016 11:35 AM EST

The American electrical grid remained under sustained assault in 2015 from squirrel attacks. The Obama administration, feckless as always, failed to understand the threat and protect the American people. If they refuse to even say the words "evolutionarily maladapted squirrels," what chance do they have of defeating the enemy?

China Baits the Forex Gods

| Tue Jan. 12, 2016 11:02 AM EST


Wagers that the yuan will slump 10% or more against the dollar are “ridiculous and impossible,” a senior Chinese economic official said Monday, warning that China had a sufficient tool kit to defeat attacks on its currency. “Attempts to sell short the renminbi will not succeed,” said Han Jun, deputy director of the office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs, at a briefing at the Chinese Consulate in New York.

I suppose he's probably right. Still, this has an uncomfortable ring of the kind of thing treasury officials tend to say just before a sustained assault on their currency demonstrates that even huge autocracies with lots of foreign reserves aren't immune to market forces. Stay tuned.

Donald Trump: The Chinese Sure Knew How to Display Toughness at Tiananmen Square

| Tue Jan. 12, 2016 2:09 AM EST

Here is Donald Trump in a 1990 Playboy interview:

What does all this—the yacht, the bronze tower, the casinos—really mean to you?
Props for the show.

And what is the show?
The show is "Trump" and it has sold out performances everywhere. I've had fun doing it and will continue to have fun, and I think most people enjoy it.

....What were your [] impressions of the Soviet Union?
I was very unimpressed....Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That's my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.

You mean firm hand as in China?
When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak ... as being spit on by the rest of the world—

So after eight years of Ronald Reagan, within weeks of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Trump is convinced that America is perceived as weak. I guess in Trumpland, America is always weak. Too bad we're not more like the Chinese at Tiananmen Square. Sure, they almost blew it, but in the end they did what they had to do. I guess they would have known what to do with those Occupy hippies and all the Mexicans flooding into the country too.