Kevin Drum

Donald Trump Is a Pathological Liar. It's Time to Stop Tiptoeing Around This.

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 2:35 PM EST

Let's take a look at a few headlines about Donald Trump lately:

CNN: Does Donald Trump transcend the truth?

New York Times: Donald Trump’s shortcuts and salesmanlike stretches

ABC News: Donald Trump gaining strength despite questionable comments

The Atlantic: Donald Trump's fact-free weekend

Washington Post: Donald Trump is leading an increasingly fact-free 2016 campaign

NBC News: Amid outcry, Trump continues campaign of controversy

BBC: Trump 'wrong' in claiming US Arabs cheered 9/11 attacks

CBS New York: Evidence supporting Trump’s claim of Jersey City Muslims cheering on 9/11 is hard to come by

Business Insider: Donald Trump declares massive victory on his widely disputed claim about 9/11

Los Angeles Times: When it comes to Syrian refugees and fighting Islamic State, Trump wings it

USA Today: Trump defends tweet with faulty crime stats as 'a retweet'

Fox News: Trump tweet on black crime sets off firestorm

It's way past time for this stuff. You can call Trump's statements lies or fabrications or even falsehoods if you insist on being delicate about it. But you can't call them questionable or controversial or salesmanlike or disputed or even faulty. The man is a serial, pathological liar. Isn't it about time for the journalistic community to work up the courage to report this with clear eyes?

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Who's the Most Humble? We Are!

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 2:03 PM EST

People For the American Way emails to highlight something from last Friday's pre-Thanksgiving celebration of Christian virtue in Iowa. Here is Carly Fiorina:

"I do think it's worth saying," Fiorina declared, "that people of faith make better leaders because faith gives us humility, faith teaches us that no one of us is greater than any other one of us, that each of us are gifted by God. Faith gives us empathy; we know that all of us can fall and every one of us can be redeemed. And faith gives us optimism, it gives us the belief that there is something better, that there is someone bigger than all of us."

PFAW is doing the Lord's work here—so to speak—but I can't get too worked up about this. It's annoying, but what do you expect at a big gathering of evangelical Christians in Iowa? But then there's this from omnipresent messaging guru Frank Luntz:

Luntz then followed up on Fiorina's statement by declaring that "I can back that up statistically," asserting that "every single positive factor that you can describe is directly correlated to someone's relationship with faith, with God, and all the pathologies that you would criticize are directly related to a rejection of God."

You know, I've got nothing against organized religion. It provides an important part of life for a lot of people and does a lot of good charitable work. It also does some harm, but what human organization doesn't?

<rant volume=7>

But it sure does get tiresome to hear Christians like Fiorina constantly preening about how great they are and then in their next breath boasting about their humility. Fiorina also explicitly suggests that nonbelievers are second-rate leaders and then immediately congratulates believers like herself for their empathy. As for optimism, I have rarely come across a community more convinced that the entire country has become a grim and ghastly abomination than evangelical Christians. Generally speaking, I'd say that evangelical Christians—the ones who blather in public anyway—are among the least humble, least empathetic, and least optimistic people in the country.

Still, you can just chalk all this up to political hyperbole and let it go. But then Luntz steps in to bring the Science™. It's not just Fiorina's opinion that believers are better than nonbelievers. By God, Luntz can prove that every single bad thing in the world is due to unbelievers. Who needs faith when you have dial tests? So there you have it: Revel in your overwhelming superiority, Christians. What better way to win sympathy for your views?


Have a nice Thanksgiving, everyone. Eat with a few sinners and publicans this year, OK?

Here's a Look at the Memes That Climate Denialists Are Funding These Days

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 12:48 PM EST

How does climate denial work? Who funds it? In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Justin Farrell used network analysis to take a detailed look at a massive corpus of 41,000 texts written between 1993 and 2013 and came up with an unsurprising answer to the second question: ExxonMobil and the Koch family foundations are the 800-pound gorillas here. But it's not just direct contributions from these two that matter. They also act as a signal of approval for everyone else: "Donations from these corporate benefactors signals entry into a powerful network of influence," Farrell says.

Perhaps the most intriguing finding, however, is that climate denial is faddish. Certain themes get hot for a while and then get replaced by others. For example, take a look at the chart on the right. Is CO2 good? Well, sure: without it all of Earth's plants would die and then we'd die too. Duh. But around 2008 we saw a spurt of op-eds and videos telling us that since "CO2 is life," then more CO2 must be a good thing, not a bad one. Remember those? But what prompted this idiocy? As the chart shows, organizations that received no funding from corporate denialists never adopted this meme. But among organizations that did receive funding, the "CO2 is life" meme skyrocketed.

You can see similar dynamics with other denialist memes, which have all had both fallow and active periods. Interestingly, though, the four memes Farrell studied are all in active periods right now. Hyperactive, even. And those memes all took off at the same time: around 2007-09. This might be related to the public embrace of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, or it might be related to the election of a Democratic president. Or both. Farrell's research doesn't tell us. Just for the record, though, here are the four memes he identified. I have taken the liberty of translating them into language we can all understand:

  • The great "global warming pause" based on using 1998 as a baseline.
  • Energy production means more jobs and more growth.
  • CO2: You call it pollution, we call it life.
  • Hey, global temperatures go up and down all the time throughout history.

According to Farrell's data, all of these memes are still in full flower. This is surprising since I haven't seen the "CO2 is life" nonsense lately. Maybe it's just gone underground. In any case, now you know where it comes from.

How Popular Is Your Senator?

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 11:50 AM EST

Martin Longman points us this morning to Morning Consult, which has a fun list of the most and least popular senators in America. The most popular senator in his home state is Bernie Sanders; the least popular is either Bob Menendez or Mitch McConnell, depending on whether you go by approval or disapproval ratings. But which states are the most and least satisfied? That turns out to be surprisingly easy to figure out:

  • Vermont is the happiest state. Vermonters really like both Sanders and Patrick Leahy. Maine and Wyoming also do well.
  • Arizona is the grumpiest state. Both John McCain and Jeff Flake have sky-high disapproval levels. Kentucky is also pretty unhappy with its senators.

On another note, not a single state that begins with A has a Democratic senator. How about that?

Turkey Shoots Down Russian Jet

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 11:18 AM EST

Turkey shot down a Russian jet today. Since Vladimir Putin is a real leader, not the featherweight we have here in America, I'll bet he made it crystal clear what price Turkey would pay for this. Let's listen in:

Certainly, we will analyze what's happening very seriously, and today's tragic event will have serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations. We have always treated Turkey as not just a close neighbor, but as a friendly state. I don't know in whose interests today's incident is, but it's not in our interest. And instead of immediately establishing the necessary contacting us, the Turkish authorities immediately their NATO partners, as if we downed a Turkish jet.

How....very Obama-like. But we'll see what happens. This intervention just keeps getting worse and worse.

An Incomplete Catalog of Donald Trump's Never-Ending Fabrications

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 1:00 AM EST

There's a legal term applied to advertising called "puffery." For example, if Coca-Cola says Coke is the best-tasting soda in the world, that's just puffery. They can't prove it, but that's okay, even if polls show that most people prefer Pepsi. Legally, statements like this are evaluated not as strictly factual claims, but as mere ordinary boasting, something that "ordinary consumers do not take seriously."

The same concept applies to politics. Presidential candidates always say their tax plans will balance, they'll crush every one of our enemies, and the current incumbent is the worst ever in history. This is just puffery. It's worth pushing back on, but it's not generally a hanging offense.

But Donald Trump is different. Sure, his picture is probably in the dictionary next to the word "puffery," but he also tosses out wild howlers with a con man's breezy assurance and tells flat-out lies as a matter of routine. He'll say things one day, and 24 hours later he'll blandly insist he's being malignly misquoted even though it's all on tape. These aren't just exaggerations or spin or cherry picking. They're things that are flatly, incontrovertibly wrong.

And that's not all. Trump doesn't do this only in private or only when he's under pressure. Nor does he do it to cover up dubious past deeds. That would at least be normal human weakness. Rather, he does it again and again in front of huge crowds and on national TV, whether he needs to or not. It's just his normal, everyday behavior.

We need an official list of this stuff. Like I said: not exaggerations or spin or cherry picking. Things that are just plain wrong. Here's a start:

  1. On 9/11, he personally saw thousands of Muslims in Jersey City cheering.
  2. He never said Marco Rubio was Mark Zuckerberg's "personal senator."
  3. There are actually 93 million people not working and the real unemployment rate is about 40 percent.
  4. The Obama administration is sending Syrian refugees to red states.
  5. Climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese.
  6. He opposed the Iraq War and has dozens of news clippings to prove it.
  7. Thirteen Syrian refugees were "caught trying to get into the U.S." (Actually, they just walked up and requested asylum.)
  8. He never said the stuff Megyn Kelly accused him of saying in the first debate.
  9. He will allow guns at Trump golf resorts.
  10. People on the terrorism watch are already prohibited from buying guns.
  11. Among white homicide victims, 81 percent are killed by blacks.
  12. America has the highest tax rate in the world.
  13. CNN lied when it reported that a speech he gave in South Carolina was one-third empty.
  14. His criticism of Ford prompted the company to move a factory from Mexico to Ohio.
  15. Vaccines cause autism.
  16. The Obama administration wants to admit 250,000 Syrian refugees.
  17. ISIS built a luxury hotel in the Middle East.
  18. He was on 60 Minutes with Vladimir Putin and "got to know him very well."
  19. He was never interested in opening a casino in Florida.
  20. November 17: The United States only started bombing ISIS oil fields "two days ago."
  21. His campaign is 100 percent self-funded.
  22. Mexico doesn't have birthright citizenship.
  23. The Iran deal forces us to "fight with Iran against Israel" if Israel attacks Iran.
  24. We still "really don't know" if Barack Obama was born in the United States.
  25. More than 300,000 veterans have died waiting for VA care.
  26. The Bush White House begged him to tone down his "vocal" opposition to the Iraq War.

This is not normal political hucksterism. It's a pathological disregard for the truth. Trump knows that the conventions of print journalism mostly prevent reporters from really calling him out on this stuff, and he also knows that TV reporters won't usually press him too hard because they want him back on their shows. And when he does get called out, he just bluffs his way through. He knows his followers will believe him when he says the fault-finding is just another example of how the liberal media has it out for him. Within a day or three, he's repeated the lie often enough that it's old news and enters the canon of what "everyone knows." Journalists don't even bother with it anymore because they're already trying to play catch-up with his latest whopper.

Anyway, this list is meant only as a start. It's what I came up with just by digging through my memory and doing a bit of googling. I'm sure there are plenty of others. Feel free to add them in comments.

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Carson Joins Trump Idiocy About Jersey City, Then Backs Away

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 6:09 PM EST

The latest from la-la land:

Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson joined GOP rival Donald Trump in claiming that he, too, saw news footage of Muslim-Americans cheering as the World Trade Center towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001 — despite the fact that no such footage has turned up yet. "I saw the film of it, yes," Carson told reporters at a Monday campaign event, adding that it was documented by "newsreels."

Newsreels? What is this? 1943? But wait. We have breaking news via Twitter from Jon Karl of ABC News:

@RealBenCarson spox Doug Watts: Carson was mistaken when he said he saw film of Muslims celebrating on 9/11 in Jersey City...."He doesn't stand behind his comments [on] New Jersey and American Muslims," Watts told ABC's @KFaulders...."He was rather thinking of the protests going on in the Middle East and some of the demonstrations" there on 9/11.

This is nuts. These guys are trying to put the Onion out of business for real. "We have investigated and discovered that East Jerusalem is not on the Hudson River after all." But hell, at least Carson is willing to admit his error. One brownie point for that—though it does raise some questions about his vaunted memory. Trump will continue to insist forever that he saw it, and his supporters will continue to believe him because you can never trust the mainstream media, can you? They're always covering up for Jersey City's Muslim community.

Americans Both Love and Hate Government

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 4:25 PM EST

Pew Research once again shows us that Americans are hopelessly confused. Do they distrust government? You bet! Only 19 percent say they trust the government most or all of the time.

Does the government do a good job? Hell n—wait, what? Majorities think the government is doing a pretty good job in almost all areas—including keeping the country safe from terrorism. In fact, the only two areas that get a low score are immigration and poverty.

So why all the distrust? I haven't read the whole report yet, so I don't know what ideas they have. Maybe I'll do that later tonight. Basically, I just think this shows once again that Americans are schizophrenic. They hate education but love their local schools. They hate Congress but love their local member. They hate the government but....yeah, it's actually doing a decent job. The French may have a problem governing a country with 246 kinds of cheese, but what do you do about Americans? You could always just ban a couple hundred kinds of cheese if you really wanted to, but how do you get Americans to adopt some kind of coherent view of how they want to be governed?

Robots Will Take Your Job Someday, But In the Meantime They'll Decide Which Jobs You Can Have

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 1:38 PM EST

Are you worried about the robots coming to take your job? You should be! But that's still a ways away for most of us. In the meantime, the robots will be deciding which jobs we're allowed to have. Today, the consistently fascinating Lydia DePillis points us to a new study that evaluates how well computer algorithms do at hiring new workers. The test bed is a large company with multiple locations. The workers perform relatively rote cognitive work that the authors can't reveal, but it is "similar to jobs such as data entry work, standardized test grading, and call center work."

In order to hire better workers, this company rolled out a new test that consists of "an online questionnaire comprising a large battery of questions, including those on technical skills, personality, cognitive skills, fit for the job, and various job scenarios." So how did stony-hearted Mr. Robot do?

Better than humans, according to the authors. The test rates each applicant as green, yellow, or red, and they found that greens stayed on the job for 12 days longer than yellows, who in turn lasted 17 days longer than reds. This is significant since the average job tenure at this company is 99 days. More to the point, the authors find that more interference from hiring managers leads to worse results. "In our setting it provides the stark recommendation that firms would do better to remove discretion of the average HR manager and instead hire based solely on the test."

But maybe hiring managers choose more productive workers? Nope. "In all cases, we find no evidence that managerial exceptions improve output per hour. Instead, we find noisy estimates indicating that worker quality appears to be lower on this dimension as well."

Hmmph. I guess it's HR managers who really need to be scared here. Apparently they simply add no value at all for jobs like this. Eventually, though, we're going to start looking at whether these tests systematically discriminate against women or blacks or other protected classes. It would be pretty easy for this to happen either intentionally or unintentionally. Then the robots will either have to get smarter or else, ironically, find themselves out of a job.

Marco Rubio Bravely Rules Out Negotiation With ISIS That No One Has Ever Proposed

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 1:15 PM EST

Marco Rubio has aired his first TV ad, and I suppose it's no surprise that we've already seen it. The whole thing is his schtick about the fight against ISIS being a civilizational struggle etc. etc. Here it is:

Once again, Rubio offers up his odd bit about ISIS hating us because we let women drive. But forbidding women to drive is actually one of the few odious things that ISIS doesn't do. It's our great and good friend Saudi Arabia that has a problem with women drivers. I'm pretty sure Rubio has never said a bad word about the Kingdom, so it seems a little odd to obsess about this when he's got such a huge panoply of other horrific stuff to choose from (we don't behead heretics, we don't sanction slavery, and so forth).

At the end Rubio gravely intones that "there can be no arrangement or negotiation." Where did that come from? Rubio would just as soon not let anyone know this, but the Obama administration is pretty firmly at war with ISIS. We're bombing them. We're taking territory from them. We're doing out best to wipe out their financial infrastructure. Obama's official policy is to "degrade and destroy" ISIS. Nobody—literally nobody—has ever suggested negotiating with them.

But I suppose none of that matters. Mostly, this is just Rubio trying his best to use dramatic lighting and a grave tone to avoid looking like he's 22, which is probably his greatest drawback in the presidential race. It's unfair, but with that baby face and breakneck speaking style that sounds like he's still on the college debating team, he just doesn't look old enough to be the leader of the free world. He seems more like a well-regarded up-and-comer, not the guy who already upped and came.

Does the ad work? It seems a little to strained to me, but I'm hardly his target audience. We'll see.