Bernie Sanders Is Switching Teams

Donald Trump says he'd be delighted to debate Bernie Sanders:

This is just sad. Trump is the master of modern publicity, and he knows perfectly well that a debate like this would (a) help Trump and (b) hurt Hillary. That's it. That's all it would do. And Bernie is all in.

Is Bernie really so aggrieved by losing the Democratic nomination that he's now willing to explicitly campaign on Trump's behalf? Because that's all this is. What happened to the old Bernie Sanders?

It's Time to Kill Off the Scripps Spelling Bee

Sarah Kliff provides the basic argument for killing off the spelling bee:

Here's how the final round of the Spelling Bee works. Once the competition is narrowed to two or three competitors, officials go to a list of 25 words. These are supposed to be the Bee's hardest words, reserved for the very top contenders.

....But something weird happened in 2014: Both finalists got all their words right. It happened again in 2015....Co-championships used to be rare in the spelling bee world. Before 2014, there had only been three such instances in the Bee's 90-year history. And now we've had the unprecedented situation of back-to-back co-champions. All because we're running out of words that are too hard to spell.

I've been unhappy about the spelling bee for years. For starters, I don't like the idea of national TV coverage for kids that young. Like the Little League World Series, it becomes an ever bigger television spectacle every year, and I just flatly think that's wrong. At the very least, we should wait until kids are in high school before they get that much pressure dumped on them.

There's also the fact that the bee has become cool at precisely the time that no one cares about spelling anymore. Computers have made it an obsolete skill, so the bee reinforces the notion that academic prowess is dumb and nerdy. Look at all those kids spending thousands of hours practicing something of no use whatsoever! Suckers!

Finally, as Kliff points out, the bee has finally been hacked. Unlike most competitions, spelling bees have a ceiling. If you can spell every word in the dictionary, you're done. You're the best speller that will ever live. And that makes it time to retire the trophy.

I'm all in favor of academic competitions. Maybe ESPN could hire some color commentators and televise the Academic Decathlon or something. That's mostly for high school juniors and seniors, which is fine, and there's no ceiling on the competition. If the kids keep getting better, just make the questions harder. Or maybe ESPN should make up its own academic version of American Ninja Warrior. "No one has ever made it through the trigonometry ladder in less than two minutes, but it might happen tonight! Tune in!"

But the spelling bee? It had a great run. Now it's time to end it.

Economic Productivity Is Looking Bleak

From the Financial Times:

Productivity is set to fall in the US for the first time in more than three decades, raising the prospect of persistent wage stagnation and the risk of a further populist backlash. Research by the Conference Board, a US think-tank, also shows the rate of productivity growth sliding behind the feeble rates in other advanced economies, with gross domestic product per hour projected to drop by 0.2 per cent this year.

The San Francisco Fed tracks a different measure called utilization-adjusted total factor productivity, which they say is a better benchmark of technological improvements than old-school labor productivity. Here's their current series:

These are 4-quarter growth rates, but the San Francisco Fed says that utilization-adjusted TFP has already gone negative on a pure quarterly basis: it was -2.66 percent in the last quarter of 2015 and -0.58 percent in the first quarter of 2016. So everyone agrees: no matter how you measure it, productivity growth is pretty weak these days. Is this because technological change has stagnated? Because low wages have prevented businesses from spending money on new labor-saving machinery? Because we're not measuring the effect of the app economy properly?

Hard to say. Come back in a decade and I'll tell you. In the meantime, it's something to keep an eye on.

Yesterday I nominated Joe Conason to write a series of cheat sheets on all the Hillary Clinton "scandals" of the 90s. Today he emailed to beg off, offering an excuse about having to finish up a "book," which I gather from context is some kind of long, paper-based blog post. Anybody ever heard of this before?

But all is not lost. While we wait for this "book," it turns out that he and Gene Lyons have created "The Hunting of Hillary," an abridged version of their original comprehensive look at all the Clinton crap of the 90s. And it's free! I read most of it over lunch today, and if you need a quick refresher on this stuff, it's pretty good.

For those of you who are new to all this, I'll warn you right off that you might initially feel inundated by a horde of Hales and McDougals and Tuckers and Nelsons and Scaifes. Don't worry, though: it will start to make sense eventually. They're mostly just various types of unsavory Arkansas political fauna.

Anyway, it's all here in PDF form, free for nothing more than an email address. I hate to do this to you, but I have a feeling we're all going to need to brush up on this stuff sooner rather than later. Might as well do it now.

"Roots" Remake Gets the Drudge Treatment

This week's Hollywood Reporter features a 4,000-word cover story about A&E's remake of Roots. About halfway through, reporter Marisa Guthrie inserts this brief sentence:

The original Roots has its deficiencies. It hasn't aged well at all; Burton admits that it feels "dated." At times, it's also overly sentimental and historically dubious. A handful of white characters diverge seriously from Haley's novel, most conspicuously a benevolent slave-ship captain played by Ed Asner.

Here's how this plays at the Drudge Report:

Credit where it's due: Drudge knows his audience well.

I want to make this simple. Here's what Donald Trump did recently:

  • He pledged $1 million to help veterans.
  • He tried to weasel out of it for months and hoped no one would notice.
  • When he finally got caught, he ponied up grudgingly and insulted the reporter who caught him.

Even among sleazebags, this is not normal behavior. This is pathological sleaziness. It's literally beyond belief. Do not let Trump distract you with his latest barrage of insults. Do not turn your attention to the latest polls. Do not let this be normalized away as "just another Trump thing."

Maybe we need to put this in simpler terms. $1 million is one ten-thousandth of Trump's claimed wealth. The average American household has a net worth of about $50,000. One ten-thousandth of that is $5. In terms of its effect on his personal finances, what Trump did was the equivalent of promising five bucks to a homeless vet and then trying to weasel out of it. What kind of person would do that?

This deserves far more attention than it's gotten. If character is supposed to be important in our presidents, this is evidence of the most contemptible kind of character imaginable. He tried to cheat a bunch of veterans! Can we please not shrug our shoulders and let this fade away?

Weekly Flint Water Report: May 14-19

Here is this week's Flint water report. As usual, I've eliminated outlier readings above 2,000 parts per billion, since there are very few of them and they can affect the averages in misleading ways. During the week, DEQ took 189 samples. The average for the past week was 17.08.

Tim Fernholz says that this chart shocked him:

It's pretty shocking, all right. We're allowing our infrastructure to crumble because we'd rather keep taxes on millionaires low than spend the money it takes to keep our country in decent shape. But it's even worse than that. This seems like a good time to update my chart showing total government spending after our four most recent recessions. Here it is:

It's now 26 quarters since the official end of the Great Recession and total government spending is still below its 2009 level. This is entirely unlike previous recessions, in which we spent our way to recovery. After 26 quarters, Reagan was spending 19 percent more than in November 1982, when his recession ended. Clinton (and the Gingrich congress) were spending 6 percent more. Bush was spending a whopping 26 percent more.

But the Republican Congress has prevented the same thing from happening on Obama's watch. We're still spending 5 percent less than we were in June 2009, when the recession ended. Is it any wonder that our recovery has been so weak?

The State Department's inspector general has finally issued his report on email preservation and retention practices within the department, and he's not impressed:

OIG identified multiple email and other electronic records management issues during the course of this evaluation....Insufficient Oversight of the Recordkeeping Process....Print and File Requirements Not Enforced....Limited Ability To Retrieve Email Records....No Inventory of Archived Electronic Files....Unavailable or Inaccessible Electronic Files....Failure To Transfer Email Records to IPS....Failure To Follow Department Separation Processes....Failure To Notify NARA of Loss of Records

OIG discovered anecdotal examples suggesting that Department staff have used personal email accounts to conduct official business....OIG identified more than 90 Department employees who periodically used personal email accounts to conduct official business....OIG also reviewed an S/ES-IRM report prepared in 2010 showing that more than 9,200 emails were sent within one week from S/ES servers to 16 web-based email domains, including gmail.com, hotmail.com, and att.net....A former Director of Policy Planning wrote: “State’s technology is so antiquated that NO ONE uses a State-issued laptop and even high officials routinely end up using their home email accounts to be able to get their work done quickly and effectively.”

Yikes! But no one cares about this. We care about Hillary Clinton. Are you ready? Here's the IG's blistering report:

Sending emails from a personal account to other employees at their Department accounts is not an appropriate method of preserving any such emails that would constitute a Federal record. Therefore, Secretary Clinton should have preserved any Federal records she created and received on her personal account by printing and filing those records with the related files in the Office of the Secretary. At a minimum, Secretary Clinton should have surrendered all emails dealing with Department business before leaving government service and, because she did not do so, she did not comply with the Department’s policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act.

NARA agrees with the foregoing assessment but told OIG that Secretary Clinton’s production of 55,000 pages of emails mitigated her failure to properly preserve emails that qualified as Federal records during her tenure and to surrender such records upon her departure. OIG concurs with NARA but also notes that Secretary Clinton’s production was incomplete. For example, the Department and OIG both determined that the production included no email covering the first few months of Secretary Clinton’s tenure.

....With regard to Secretary Clinton’s immediate staff...OIG learned of extensive use of personal email accounts by four immediate staff members (none of whom responded to the questionnaire). During the summer of 2015, their representatives produced Federal records in response to a request from the Department, portions of which included material sent and received via their personal email accounts. The material consists of nearly 72,000 pages in hard copy and more than 7.5 gigabytes of electronic data.

....During Secretary Clinton’s tenure, the FAM also instructed employees that they were expected to use approved, secure methods to transmit SBU [Sensitive But Unclassified] information and that, if they needed to transmit SBU information outside the Department’s OpenNet network on a regular basis to non-Departmental addresses, they should request a solution from IRM. However, OIG found no evidence that Secretary Clinton ever contacted IRM to request such a solution, despite the fact that emails exchanged on her personal account regularly contained information marked as SBU.

In other words, this is pretty much all the stuff we already knew. The Department of State apparently has epically bad email systems. Nonetheless, Hillary Clinton should have consulted with State's IT staff about her personal email account. She didn't. She should have turned over her work emails sooner. She didn't. Ditto for her staff.

And that's about it. Hillary screwed up. The IG report doesn't present any evidence that her system was ever hacked. Nor does it suggest that Hillary was deliberately trying to prevent work-related emails from being retained. Nor was she the only one conducting official business on a personal account. Colin Powell did it too, as well as dozens of other State employees.

Nonetheless, Hillary exercised poor judgment here. That's been clear for a long time. Beyond that, though, there's not much more to say.

Charles Camosy proposes a grand bargain for Democrats and Republicans:

How to pass federal paid family leave and limit abortions

Family leave programs and child-care support are energetically backed by liberals....[But] these kinds of programs violate the extremist small-government orthodoxy of the Republican Party. Even if Democrats were to win the presidency this year, and a majority in the House and the Senate, the GOP would almost certainly filibuster bills that meaningfully addressed paid family leave and child-care costs.

That means that Democrats who want to see such bills pass need to come up with a carrot to get moderate Republicans on board. A nearly perfect one exists: the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which was passed by the House last year but filibustered by Senate Democrats. The bill would ban elective abortions past the 20th week of pregnancy. The United States is extreme in allowing such abortions in the first place; it is one of only seven countries in the world that permit abortions beyond 20 weeks.

Hmmm. Paid family leave and child-care support in return for limiting abortions after 20 weeks instead of 26. Camosy is right: there are probably some Democrats who'd back that deal. At a guess, there would be at least enough to defeat a filibuster and put this on the president's desk. So let's give it a try!

Oh wait. We need some Republican votes too. At the moment I can think of...zero Republicans who wouldn't dismiss this out of hand. Other than that, though, it sounds like some great out-of-the-box thinking.