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.

Peter Thiel's Secret War Against Gawker

Forbes provides some interesting dirt on Hulk Hogan's libel suit against Gawker:

Peter Thiel, a PayPal cofounder and one of the earliest backers of Facebook, has been secretly covering the expenses for Hulk Hogan’s lawsuits against online news organization Gawker Media....During court proceedings, which ended in late March with a $140 million victory for Hogan, there had been rumors that a wealthy individual had funded Hogan’s case though there was never any hard evidence that surfaced to prove that was true.

....Money may not have been the main motivation in the first place. Thiel, who is gay, has made no secret of his distaste for Gawker, which attempted to out him in late 2007 before he was open about his sexuality. In 2009, Thiel told PEHub that now-defunct Silicon Valley-focused publication Valleywag, which was owned by Gawker, had the “psychology of a terrorist.”

Mother Jones has had its own recent run-in with a zillionaire who tried to sue us into oblivion, so maybe I'm biased. But I'd like to hear a little more about this from the folks who think that safe spaces and campus protests are harbingers of doom for the First Amendment. You know what could really hurt a free press? Mega-millionaires who know that defending a suit can easily put a small publication out of business, and don't really care much if they win or lose. For them, a few million dollars is chump change anyway. And if they can do it secretly? All the better.

Our story so far: on January 28, Donald Trump pledged $1 million at a charity fundraiser for veterans. Four months later, after considerable digging, the Washington Post was unable to find any evidence that he had made good on his pledge, so they asked his campaign manager about it. On Friday, Corey Lewandowski said "The money is fully spent. Mr. Trump’s money is fully spent." So who did he give it to? "He's not going to share that information."

So the Post kept digging all day Monday. Finally, on Tuesday, we learned that Lewandowski had lied. Trump had not, in fact, given any money to anyone:

Trump said in an interview Tuesday that he pledged the $1 million to the Marine Corps - Law Enforcement Foundation. The mogul notified the group's chairman, retired FBI official James Kallstrom, in a phone call sometime Monday night, according to Kallstrom's wife, Sue Kallstrom.

The Washington Post had been querying charities on social media, trying to find evidence that his $1 million had been received by any veterans' groups. Trump fulfilled his pledge hours later, it appears.

Why had it taken almost four months? "You have a lot of vetting to do," Trump said....When asked if the Monday donation was in response to questions from the news media, Trump said: "You know, you’re a nasty guy. You’re really a nasty guy. I gave out millions of dollars that I had no obligation to do."

Even for Trump, this is inexplicable. Whenever you think he can't possibly be a bigger douche, he proves you wrong. What a revolting human being he is.

Hillary Clinton Needs Some Better Hobbies

David Brooks tries to explain why Hillary Clinton is generally disliked:

I would begin my explanation with this question: Can you tell me what Hillary Clinton does for fun? We know what Obama does for fun — golf, basketball, etc. We know, unfortunately, what Trump does for fun.

But when people talk about Clinton, they tend to talk of her exclusively in professional terms....Clinton’s career appears, from the outside, to be all consuming. Her husband is her co-politician. Her daughter works at the Clinton Foundation. Her friendships appear to have been formed at networking gatherings reserved for the extremely successful.

Brooks has been mocked extensively for this, but that's unfair. He has a point here.

Before I get to that, though, let's insert the obvious caveat: one of the main reasons Hillary is disliked is because Republicans have spent a quarter of a century attacking her character relentlessly. Benghazi is just the latest of a long string. This has done plenty of damage on its own, but it's also caused Hillary to build a very thick shell between herself and the press. This naturally makes her seem distant and calculating.

Now let's get back to Brooks. Here's the thing: like it or not, from cherry trees to log cabins to men from Hope, presidents have always been as much about image as reality. In the modern era, that means presidents have a carefully constructed TV persona. JFK played touch football on the White House lawn. LBJ lassoed calves on his ranch. Nixon bowled.1 Carter went fishing. Reagan rode horses on his ranch. Bush the Elder went sailing off Kennebunkport. Bill Clinton practically focus grouped his vacations. Bush the Younger cleared brush. Obama does hits on ESPN talking about his March Madness bracket.

Apparently Hillary's hobbies are Scrabble, gardening, and crossword puzzles. That's not a lot to work with, but it's something. For example, here's a picture of Hillary and Bill in a Scrabble death match against the Bidens. Here's another of Hillary relaxing after a long day with the New York Times crossword puzzle. And here's one of her planting some new spring bulbs in her—

Wait. What's that? You don't see any pictures? Sorry about that. I couldn't find any. Maybe I didn't look hard enough.

Bottom line: Brooks has a point. It doesn't matter if you think it's fair or not. Modern presidents all know perfectly well that TV has brought the American public into their lives, and the public wants to know what they do for fun. They want to feel like their president is someone who relaxes at the end of the day and lets off a little steam. But Hillary Clinton won't let them see that.

Sure, a lot of this is artifice. So what? It still matters.

1For all the good this did him. But at least he tried. Not for nothing did Nixon turn to media guru Roger Ailes for advice on how to appear less like the devious prick he was.

Paging Joe Conason to the Assignment Desk

As we all know, Donald Trump recently suggested that Vince Foster's suicide was "fishy." He did this solely to get everyone talking about the old conspiracy theories that maybe Hillary had him murdered, and it worked. Everyone's talking about it. Sure, most of the talk is about how the conspiracy theories were thoroughly discredited years ago, but as Digby says:

The problem is that nobody believes fact checks they don't already agree with. And from what I'm hearing from some of my readers, this is all news to them and they're ready to believe it. Clinton lies about everything so why not about murder?

Yeah. If you're under 35, you probably barely heard about this in real time. It's all brand new, and if you're a Bernie supporter who loathes Hillary as part of the corrupt, warmonger, Wall-Street-loving establishment, you're primed to give it a listen.

Needless to say, Trump is likely to repeat this about every one of the long string of pseudo-scandals that have been aimed at Hillary over the past 25 years. So here's what we need: a series of cheat sheets. One for Vince Foster, one for Whitewater, one for Travelgate, etc. Here's a proposed format:

Description of alleged scandal (100 words max).

Where it came from (150 words max)

Actual truth of the matter (250 words max)

Conspiracy theory talking points (1 million words max)

Just kidding on that last one. Let's keep it to a few hundred words, OK? The idea here isn't to be exhaustive, it's to provide something that people might actually read. Something that allows folks who don't know about this stuff to get up to speed in a minute or two. I nominate Joe Conason for this task, but anybody else with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Arkansas Project and its bastard cousins is welcome to contribute instead. I hate to say it, but we're probably going to need this.

This post was just completely wrong. Men generally outnumber women in every generation until mortality rates turn things around after middle age. I'm not really sure what I was thinking here.

Anyway, I've deleted the whole thing. If you already read it, try to forget it.

Is the Republican Party/Movement Conservatism responsible for the rise of Donald Trump? Megan McArdle rounds up five theories about how Republicans brought Trump on themselves and concludes that they don't make sense. It turns out that four of her theories seem pretty marginal to me, so instead I'm going to offer three of my own. Here we go:

#1: Talk radio and Fox News made conservatives crazy. This is McArdle's Theory #1, and it's the only one on her list that I hear frequently—and agree with. But she doesn't: "Media follows its audience, rather than leading it. Opinion columnists who spend any time at all interacting with their readers are well aware of how pitifully rarely we manage to change anyone’s mind about anything."

I feel her pain. But Rush Limbaugh is in a whole different universe from Megan McArdle and Kevin Drum. Obviously his popularity owes much to the fact that he channels his listeners' views, but he's also influenced them over the years. It was (and is) very much a vicious/virtuous circle: Limbaugh and his audience basically egg each other on. His influence on his listeners is why he was made an "honorary member" of the congressional class of 1994. I don't know what the official political science view is about this, but Republicans at the time sure thought that Limbaugh was instrumental in stoking the anger that led to the Gingrich revolution—and I agree with them.

Beyond that, common sense suggests that the Rush/Fox/Drudge axis has had a big influence on the conservative movement. It's created a take-no-prisoners style of conservatism that disdains facts, encourages conspiracy theories, creates secret enemies around every corner, rails against compromise of any kind, and insists that conservatives could win if only their leaders were strong enough. This became fertile ground for someone like Donald Trump.

#2: Tolerance of racism. Are leading Republicans racist? How should I know? But honestly, it doesn't matter. What matters is that they've been plainly tolerant of racism and xenophobia in their ranks because it's politically convenient. Now along comes someone like Trump, who all but wears his racism on his sleeve, and they're shocked, shocked, that much of the Republican base is swooning over him. But what did they expect? We've been through years of attacks on "urban" welfare recipients. Years of opposition to affirmative action policies that affect only a tiny fraction of the population. Years of attacks on political correctness that are barely concealed gripes about not being able to tell off-color jokes anymore. Years of race-baiting from Fox News. Years of pandering to angry white males. Years of racially inflected attacks on Barack Obama.

Is it merely an amazing coincidence that all this stuff and more is really principled conservatism that just happens to code as racist? Spare me. Republicans let this stuff fester because it helped them keep their base enraged, and now Donald Trump has reaped the benefits.

#3: The hack gap. I don't imagine I'll persuade McArdle of this, but conservatives really do have an intellectual superstructure that exists almost solely to provide backup for conservative beliefs. Obviously there are liberals who play this role too, but there are also plenty of mainstream lefties who routinely try to keep things real. Hell, we even have a name for them: "Even the New Republic" liberals. These are the folks that Bernie Sanders supporters deride as sellouts and shills, and there's really hardly anything comparable on the right anymore. You can find occasional pushback against conservative dogma from, say, libertarians, but they have little influence among mainstream conservatives. In the heart of the movement, it's a considerable surprise if you ever find a think tank or magazine article warning that facts on the ground don't really support some beloved tenet of conservatism. I believe that McArdle herself has been a victim of this.

This has created an electorate that doesn't really care about facts anymore—or, at least, is convinced that they aren't worth worrying about since the facts are so plainly on their side. So along comes Donald Trump, the ultimate fact-free salesman, and it should be no surprise that the Republican base is fine with this. They've been trained for decades not to be concerned about trivia like telling the truth. If Trump says it, they're willing to believe it. Why wouldn't they?

So that's that. Republicans created a field that turned out to be fertile ground for someone like Donald Trump, and guess what? They got someone like Donald Trump. Now they're troubled because Trump has his own agenda—which, it turns out, the Republican base likes better than theirs—but it's too late. The only thing left to do at this point is to work for Trump's defeat and then spend some time rethinking their larger strategy. We'll see how that goes.