Kevin Drum

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?

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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.

Hillary Clinton Is Strongly Trusted on National Security

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 11:50 AM EST

In the wake of the Paris attacks, who do Americans trust most on national security? Thankfully, the answer is not Donald Trump. Surprisingly, the answer appears to be Hillary Clinton. According to the latest Washington Post/ABC poll, she beats all the major Republican candidates, and she beats Trump especially heavily.

This poll was done at the beginning of last week, when post-Paris hysteria over ISIS had already begun. But it was before the Republican field went completely loony. Has that reduced her lead a bit or opened it up even further? We'll probably never know for sure. But national security has been one of Donald Trump's biggest calling cards, so it should be of some concern to him that he's nonetheless well behind Clinton. In fact, the only two Republican candidates who are even close are the two most mainstream ones: Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. When national security takes over the conversation, maybe America isn't quite as hungry for a rank amateur in the Oval Office as some people think?

What's the Matter With Kentucky?

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 10:45 AM EST

Last year I wrote a post about the Democrats' problem with the white working class. You can read the whole thing here, but the short version is this: the white working class really hates welfare, and unlike all of us hyperverbal liberal types, they don't view it as some kind of abstract "policy." It's far more personal: "For them, the poor aren't merely a set of statistics or a cause to be championed. They're the folks next door who don't do a lick of work but somehow keep getting government checks paid for by their tax dollars. For a lot of members of the white working class, this is personal in a way it just isn't for the kind of people who read this blog."

Like anyone, I enjoy seeing my opinions confirmed, so I was pretty happy a couple of days ago to see a long piece on ProPublica by Alec MacGillis that took on this exact subject. MacGillis did a lot of shoe-leather reporting on this issue, and came to the same conclusion I did. Using Kentucky as his case study, the question he's addressing is why so many poor communities vote against the very policies that help them the most:

The people who most rely on the safety-net programs secured by Democrats are, by and large, not voting against their own interests by electing Republicans. Rather, they are not voting, period. They have, as voting data, surveys and my own reporting suggest, become profoundly disconnected from the political process.

The people in these communities who are voting Republican in larger proportions are those who are a notch or two up the economic ladder — the sheriff’s deputy, the teacher, the highway worker, the motel clerk, the gas station owner and the coal miner. And their growing allegiance to the Republicans is, in part, a reaction against what they perceive, among those below them on the economic ladder, as a growing dependency on the safety net, the most visible manifestation of downward mobility in their declining towns.

....These voters are consciously opting against a Democratic economic agenda that they see as bad for them and good for other people — specifically, those undeserving benefit-recipients in their midst. I’ve heard variations on this theme all over the country: people railing against the guy across the street who is collecting disability payments but is well enough to go fishing, the families using their food assistance to indulge in steaks.

....With reliance on government benefits so prevalent, it creates constant moments of friction, on very intimate terms, said Jim Cauley, a Democratic political consultant from Pike County....Where opposition to the social safety net has long been fed by the specter of undeserving inner-city African-Americans — think of Ronald Reagan’s notorious “welfare queen” — in places like Pike County it’s fueled, more and more, by people’s resentment over rising dependency they see among their own neighbors, even their own families. “It’s Cousin Bobby — ‘he’s on Oxy and he’s on the draw and we’re paying for him,’ ” Cauley said. “If you need help, no one begrudges you taking the program — they’re good-hearted people. It’s when you’re able-bodied and making choices not to be able-bodied.” The political upshot is plain, Cauley added. “It’s not the people on the draw that’s voting against” the Democrats, he said. “It’s everyone else.”

This helps explain a much-discussed article in the Lexington Herald-Leader a week ago. It concluded that counties with the highest number of Medicaid recipients were also the most reliable voters for Republican Matt Bevin—despite the fact that Bevin had loudly insisted that he would slash Medicaid if he won the election. It's not that all these Medicaid recipients were voting against their self-interest. They weren't voting one way or the other—and all the while, their slightly less-poor neighbors were voting to cut them off.

This news won't necessarily surprise anyone, and it doesn't really point toward any obvious solutions, either. But it's nevertheless worth a few minutes of your time to read MacGillis's piece. It takes the problem out of the realm of the abstract and puts some meat on its bones. If you want to get a feel for what safety-net politics looks like at ground level, click the link.

My Morning Advice: Don't Talk About Taking Down Donald Trump. Just Take Him Down.

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 9:35 AM EST

Here's the latest on GOP panic over the possibility that Donald Trump might actually win the Republican nomination:

A well-connected GOP operative is planning a “guerrilla campaign” backed by secret donors to “defeat and destroy” the celebrity businessman’s candidacy, according to a memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

....The most concerted effort is Trump Card LLC, the self-styled guerrilla campaign being launched by Liz Mair, the former online communications director of the Republican National Committee. “In the absence of our efforts, Trump is exceedingly unlikely to implode or be forced out of the race,” according to the Trump Card memo. “The stark reality is that unless something dramatic and unconventional is done, Trump will be the Republican nominee and Hillary Clinton will become president.”

....Ms. Mair, who has ties to the libertarian movement and the GOP establishment, said that donors backing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Mr. Kasich and Mr. Bush are interested, and that some worry that going public could hurt their candidate.

Rick Wilson, a Republican media consultant, said in an interview that he is prepared to make ads for the new group. Mr. Wilson isn’t involved in fundraising but predicted that a number of Republican donors will start bankrolling an anti-Trump effort.

Look, folks: the first rule of fight club is that you don't talk about fight club. What's the point of publicly announcing this strategy? It's good for the ego, I suppose, but all it does is alert Trump and ruin any jolt of surprise you might get from your campaign. Now reporters are all ready for it, and when it happens they'll just dissect it dispassionately instead of (hopefully) being dazzled. It's like the idiots in the Hillary Clinton campaign who decided to alert the world that they planned a campaign to make Hillary look more human. Nice going.

As with most liberals, I'm of two minds about all this. On the one hand, Republicans deserve every bit of what they're getting. For years they've been actively encouraging the enraged, racially-charged grievance culture that Trump represents, and it's hard to feel sorry for them now that it's biting them in the ass. Besides, if Trump does win the nomination, he's almost certain to lose, and that's fine with me. Republicans deserve another few years out in the cold.

On the other hand, life is strange, and "almost certain" is not "certain." What's more, we're now at the point where Trump is no longer a joke. Another year of his unapologetic racism and xenophobia could do serious damage to the country—and especially to the targets of his malignant rants. It's long past time to dump him on the nearest ash heap of history.

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Donald Trump's Hatemongering Moves on to African Americans

| Sun Nov. 22, 2015 3:54 PM EST

Having already played the hate card against Mexicans and Muslims—and getting crackerjack results—Donald Trump has apparently decided to move on to African Americans. I don't know what the "Crime Statistics Bureau" in San Francisco is, and I don't think I want to know, but one of the most well-established facts about murder in the United States is that it's pretty racially segregated. Whites kill whites, blacks kill blacks, etc. But today Trump decided to tweet the CSB graphic on the right, for no readily apparent reason. And wouldn't you know it: it contains a wee racial error. It claims that most whites are killed by blacks, but in 2014, which is the latest full-year homicide data available from the FBI, 82 percent of whites were killed by other whites and only 15 percent were killed by blacks.

Trump's tweeted graphic swaps the the numbers for the offender's race—but only for white victims. For black victims, the numbers in the graphic are roughly correct. This makes it look like blacks kill everyone. And just in case these numbers are too subtle for you, it includes a stereotypical black thug to make sure you get the picture. Donald Trump has found his audience, and he knows what they want. So he's giving it to them.

UPDATE: Come on, folks. This graphic is not "controversial" and it's not "questionable." It's wrong. Period. The numbers for white victims are swapped in a grossly obvious way intended to make a racist point. FFS.

Father Coughlin Is Alive and Well in Today's GOP

| Sun Nov. 22, 2015 11:44 AM EST

Let's see. Over the past few days and weeks, Donald Trump has said:

More generally, Trump has said that we're going to have to do things that were "unthinkable" a year ago. Considering the list of things he apparently believes are perfectly thinkable right now, that sends chills down your spine. And yet, this man continues to lead the GOP race and appears to be gaining momentum from his Father Coughlinesque brand of xenophobia and fearmongering.

How does this happen? A big part of it is because other high-profile Republicans are too cowardly to fight back. Nearly every Republican governor has jumped on the vile, big-talking bandwagon of refusing to allow any Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Every Republican presidential candidate favors a ban on accepting further Muslim Syrian refugees. Jeb Bush thinks we should only accept Christian refugees from Syria. Ted Cruz isn't a fan of "government registries" but otherwise thinks Trump is great. Straight-talking Chris Christie dodges when he's asked if existing Syrian refugees should be kicked out of New Jersey. Marco Rubio dodges when he's asked if we might have to close down mosques.

Overall, with the semi-honorable exception of Jeb Bush, no Republican candidate has been willing to seriously push back on either Trump's old Mexican demagoguery or his shiny new Muslim demagoguery. All this despite the fact that Mexican immigration is down and the United States hasn't suffered a significant attack from overseas terrorists in over a decade. All it took to wake this latent hysteria was some terrorist activity in other countries. God help us.

How Good a Dealmaker Is Donald Trump, Anyway?

| Sun Nov. 22, 2015 1:12 AM EST

Here is Donald Trump on who he listens to regarding economic issues:

Honestly, I feel that I have such a vast feeling for it that I really—you know, Milton Friedman was good—but I don’t really listen to anybody. I just put it in and I have a feeling for, it’s almost common sense, it’s a business instinct.

Translation: Milton Friedman is the only conservative economist he can think of. And he probably wouldn't listen to the guy if he were still alive anyway. Why mess with his killer instincts?

Which raises two questions. First: How good a developer is Donald Trump? Seriously. My sense is that he's about a 5 on a scale of 1-10. He's had some successes, he's had some failures, and he seems to have found a decent—but hardly dazzling—niche in golf resorts. Overall, he started with a lot of money and has since grown his business at roughly the rate of the economy. Not bad, but nothing to crow about.

And second: why is it that we seem to have heard nothing about Trump from other developers? They'd have the best read on how good he really is, after all. If he were truly brilliant, I figure he would have been soliciting testimonials all over the place. I haven't seen any. But if he's a second-rater with a big mouth, I figure we would have heard that too. But I haven't. I haven't really heard anything. Do developers not like to talk smack about each other because they never know where their next deal might come from? Do they just generally shun publicity? Do they genuinely not know much about Trump because he doesn't really do much business these days aside from golf courses, branding deals, and TV shows?

What's the deal here? Trump must have a reputation within the New York developer community. So what is it?

Yes, Donald Trump Agreed That We Should Have a National Registry of Muslims

| Sat Nov. 21, 2015 1:33 PM EST

I was arguing on Twitter with Mickey Kaus last night about the Trump Muslim registry story, and today he's touting a Byron York piece about how the "Trump database story was built on a foundation of nothing." But that's not fair. The whole thing started when Yahoo's Hunter Walker asked Trump about Syrian refugees. York asked Walker for audio of the interview, which he provided. Here's the relevant excerpt:

WALKER: France declared this state of emergency where they closed the borders and they established some degree of warrantless searches. I know how you feel about the borders, but do you think there is some kind of state of emergency here, and do we need warrantless searches of Muslims?

TRUMP: Well, we're going to have to do things that we never did before. [Blah blah blah] But we have to err on the side of security for our people and our nation.

WALKER: And in terms of doing this, to pull off the kind of tracking we need, do you think we might need to register Muslims in some type of database, or note their religion on their ID?

TRUMP: Well, we're going to have to look at a lot of things very closely....

When I first read Walker's story, I concluded that he had been on a fishing expedition. I still think that, but this transcript actually softens my objections. The first question is reasonably motivated by the French response to the Paris attacks, and Trump makes it clear that he's willing to go pretty far to deal with the ISIS threat. So Walker takes the bait and goes further. Trump then tap dances and never really addresses the question about registries.

So far, though, the most you can do is criticize Trump for not immediately denouncing the registry proposal. But he's now on notice. Headlines began appearing about this, and it was a big topic of discussion on Thursday. After the Yahoo story hit, Trump could no longer pretend to be taken by surprise if someone asked again about registering Muslims. And sure enough, MSNBC's Vaughn Hillyard did. Here's the transcript:

Hillyard: Should there be a database or system that tracks Muslims in this country?

Trump: There should be a lot of systems. Beyond databases. I mean, we should have a lot of systems. And today you can do it.

[Some talk about Trump's wall on the Mexican border ensues.]

Trump: We have to stop people from coming in to our country illegally.

Hillyard: But specifically, how do you actually get them registered into a database?

Trump: It would be just good management....

Hillyard: Do you go to mosques and sign these people up?

Trump: Different places. You sign ‘em up at different, but it’s all about management. Our country has no management.

Hillyard: Would they have to legally be in this database, would they be–

Trump: They have to be — they have to be — let me just tell you: People can come to the country, but they have to come legally. Thank you very much.

This is pretty plain. Sure, Trump is at a ropeline and he's distracted. But he knows the registry issue is a live question, and Hillyard is very clear about what he's asking. There's some confusion in the middle about whether Trump is talking about a Muslim registry or a wall on the Mexican border, but there's no confusion at all when Hillyard asks "Do you go to mosques and sign people up?" And York himself agrees:

Trump's offhand decision to tell MSNBC he would implement a database was an enormously stupid thing to do. And by Friday afternoon, Trump tweeted, "I didn't suggest a database -- a reporter did. We must defeat Islamic terrorism & have surveillance, including a watch list, to protect America."

But the damage had been done. In the end, the responsibility is always the candidate's to be on guard for attempts, by journalists or rival campaign operatives, to entice him into saying damaging things.

So was the Muslim registry story built on a foundation of nothing? Sure, in a way. But reporters ask hypothetical questions all the time. This is hardly a startling new technique. What's more, Trump has built his entire campaign on saying things outrageous enough to get lots of media attention. But now he's complaining that a reporter gave him a chance to say something outrageous and it generated a lot of media attention? Give me a break.

As York says, Trump has since backtracked on Twitter: "I didn't suggest a database-a reporter did." True enough. But Trump pretty obviously agreed. This wasn't a gotcha or a cleverly loaded question. It was obvious what both reporters were talking about. The first time he tap danced. The second time he agreed. Trump is a grown man who's accustomed to dealing with the press. There was nothing unfair about this. He may have backtracked now, but he thought it sounded like a fine idea until the blowback became a little too intense.