Kevin Drum

Everyone Knows Why Hillary Clinton Won't Release Her Goldman Sachs Speeches

| Sat Apr. 16, 2016 1:15 PM EDT

John Judis says he's worried about Hillary Clinton again:

I don't understand why she can't put the Goldman, Sachs question behind her. I initially assumed that she either didn't have transcripts or that what she said was the usual milquetoast stuff politicians offer up. But her continued refusal to provide transcripts (which I now assume must exist) suggests that there must be something damning in them.

If she gets the nomination, she'll face these questions again in the fall, and if Trump or Cruz is her opponent, these questions will detract from the attention that their past utterances about Mexican rapists or masturbation or whathaveyou.

For what it's worth, I think we all know what's in those transcripts: a bit of routine praise for the yeoman work that investment bankers do to keep the gears of the economy well oiled. Maybe something like this:

These are tough times for investment bankers. I think Goldman Sachs is the only organization with a lower approval rating than Congress [audience laughs politely between bites of prime rib]. But seriously, folks, Main Street and Wall Street need each other. Bankers aren't villains. I support higher leverage requirements and regulation of derivatives [audience stares moodily at their forks], but I've always said that we need to do it in a practical way. Some of the financial engineering that's come under such attack from the Bernie Sanders of the world [audience brightens] is just what our country needs. It helps states build roads and cities build schools. You're the villains when things go bad—and maybe sometimes you deserve to be. But other times you're the heroes America can't do without.

This is the kind of thing that people say when they give a speech. But in the hands of a political opponent, it will come out like this:

Bankers aren't villains....The financial engineering that's come under such attack from the Bernie Sanders of the world is just what our country needs. It helps states build roads and cities build schools....You're the heroes America can't do without.

Something like that, anyway. My own guess is that it's vanishingly unlikely Hillary said anything in these speeches that's truly a bombshell. Her entire life suggests the kind of caution and experience with leaks that almost certainly made these speeches dull and predictable. But the Goldman folks knew all that up front. They just wanted the cachet of having a Clinton address their dinner.

Still, when you give speeches to any industry group, you offer up some praise for the vital work they do. It's just part of the spiel. And Hillary knows perfectly well without even looking that some of that stuff is in these speeches—and it can be taken out of context and made into yet another endless and idiotic Republican meme. Remember "You didn't build that"? Sure you do.

On another note, if Hillary does release the transcripts, she's sure not going to do it now. She'll wait until she has the nomination wrapped up and then release them during the dog days of May or June. If possible, she'll do it the same day Donald Trump blows up the news cycle again. By that time, Democrats will all be circling the wagons to defend her and the entire foofarah will be dead by the time the real campaign starts in September.

As for the odds of a genuine bombshell, I'd put it at about 1 percent. I guess you never know about these things, but literally everything in Hillary's 40-year political career suggests a woman who simply doesn't traffic in bombshells. It's not in her personality, and in any case, long experience has taught her better. It's only barely conceivable that something genuinely damning is anywhere in any of those speeches.

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Campaign Reporters Hate Everyone

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 8:35 PM EDT

Who gets the most positive campaign coverage? Vox asked Crimson Hexagon, a social media software analytics company, to run the numbers, and the answer is John Kasich. Who gets the most negative coverage? Hillary Clinton.

No surprise there, I suppose. As usual, though, I'd caution against making very much out of this. For starters, there's not a lot of difference between the candidates. And sometimes there's just bad news to report. I think that Hillary has been the target of some poor reporting on her email problems, but that doesn't change the fact that she was bound to get a lot of negative coverage no matter what. That's life.

The chart on the right shows net coverage (positive minus negative) for all five of the remaining candidates, and the most telling statistic is that campaign coverage is just overwhelmingly negative, full stop. On average, each of the candidates received about 5 percent positive coverage and 35 percent negative coverage. It's no wonder that everyone thinks they're treated uniquely badly by the press. They obsess over the fact that they (really and truly) get overwhelmingly bad coverage, without realizing that everyone else does too. Apparently campaign reporters just hate the idea of writing anything positive about anybody.

Bernie Sanders earned $205,000 in 2014

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 7:56 PM EDT

Earlier today I noted that someone who earns $200,000 pays an average federal income tax rate of 15 percent. Well, it turns out that Bernie Sanders is really, really average. He released his 2014 tax return tonight, and it reports that he had an adjusted gross income of $205,617 and total taxes due of $27,653. That's 13 percent of his income.

Oddly, his return shows total wages of $156,441, even though US senators earn a minimum of $174,000. I'm not sure what the explanation for this is. He also shows charitable contributions of $8,350, which is 4 percent of his income. He'll get some flak for that, I suppose, but I find all the showiness of politicians about their charitable donations to be tiresome. Whatever it is, it's fine.

I just want to know why his reported wages were less than his official salary. Does the Senate pay less if you collect Social Security benefits?

UPDATE: In comments, machev suggests that Bernie contributes $17,500 to the federal equivalent of a 401(k). So his reportable income is $174K - $17.5K = $156.5K

Friday Cat Blogging - 15 April 2016

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 2:56 PM EDT

At vast expense, I have spent the past few weeks completely renovating my work area. Needless to say, I didn't do this for me. I did it for you, because you all deserve blog posts written in the most stimulating and technologically advanced surroundings possible.

It all started when I suddenly realized that I had never liked my desk lamp—so I bought a new one. Then it kind of snowballed. You know how it goes. As you can see, the cats are pretty happy with the whole setup. Sometimes they share the birdwatching pod, other times they stretch out in their own private pods. What more can a cat ask for?

Hillary Fudges on the Minimum Wage

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 2:40 PM EDT

I didn't see last night's debate, but I noted this in the transcript this morning:

BLITZER: If a Democratic Congress put a $15 minimum wage bill on your desk, would you sign it?

CLINTON: Well, of course I would. And I have supported supported the fight for 15. I am proud to have the endorsement of most of the unions that have led the fight for 15. I was proud to stand on the stage with Governor Cuomo, with SEIU and others who have been leading this battle and I will work as hard as I can to raise the minimum wage. I always have. I supported that when I was in the Senate.

SANDERS: Well, look...

CLINTON: But what I have also said is that we’ve got to be smart about it, just the way Governor Cuomo was here in New York. If you look at it, we moved more quickly to $15 in New York City, more deliberately toward $12, $12.50 upstate then to $15. That is exactly my position. It’s a model for the nation and that’s what I will do as president.

This is a pretty obvious evasion, and I'm sorry to see it. Here's her official position:

Hillary believes we are long overdue in raising the minimum wage. She has supported raising the federal minimum wage to $12, and believes that we should go further than the federal minimum through state and local efforts, and workers organizing and bargaining for higher wages, such as the Fight for 15 and recent efforts in Los Angeles and New York to raise their minimum wage to $15.

Blitzer's question was clearly about raising the federal minimum wage to $15, and Hillary immediately said she'd support that. But she doesn't. She supports a $12 federal minimum wage. Pretty obviously, though, she wanted the TV audience to take away a different impression.

I hate to see pandering like this. Hillary's position on the minimum wage is perfectly reasonable: a federal minimum of $12. States and cities have always been able to enact higher minimums if they want, and the president has no say over that. So why not say so? Would she really lose that many votes? My guess is that none of the hardcore $15 folks are voting for her in the first place.

Donald Trump Continues to Know Nothing About the Bible

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 1:43 PM EDT

Oh look. Donald Trump has a new favorite Bible verse:

WHAM 1180 AM radio host Bob Lonsberry asked the Republican front-runner if he had a favorite verse or story from the Bible that’s impacted his thinking or character.

“Well, I think many. I mean, you know, when we get into the Bible, I think many. So many,” he responded. “And some people—look, an eye for an eye, you can almost say that. That’s not a particularly nice thing. But you know, if you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, when you see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us, and how they scoff at us and laugh at us.”

“And they laugh at our face, and they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our money, they’re taking the health of our country,” he continued. “And we have to be firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you.”

I'll say one thing for this: I actually believe it. It's entirely plausible that this really is the biggest lesson that Donald Trump has taken from the Bible. I even predicted it six months ago.1

Sadly, Trump misinterprets this admonition the same way most people do. It was meant to stop endless feuds among his people. If you lose an eye, Yahweh limits you to gouging out the other guy's eye in retribution. You can't just go ahead and massacre his entire family.

Still, this should go over OK. As near as I can tell, an awful lot of supposedly devout Christians really do think this is the main lesson of the Bible, right along with getting rich, keeping out immigrants, and fighting welfare programs for the poor. It was a nice, safe choice.

1Sort of.

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UC Davis's Effort to Scrub Its Pepper-Spraying Incident From the Internet Worked Pretty Well—Until Reporters Found Out About It

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 12:26 PM EDT

In an embarrassing revelation, the Sacramento Bee reports that UC Davis has spent $175,000 trying to scrub the internet of references to its infamous 2011 pepper spraying incident. So how did that go? Aja Romano says not so well—and there's a lesson to be learned from this:

As Gawker has been quick to point out, the efforts of both consulting firms failed miserably. As of this morning, "pepper spray" was the second autofill search result I received when I typed "UC Davis" into Google.

In all fairness, while it may suck for UC Davis to be perpetually judged for the actions of one man at an event that took place five years ago, the failure of its efforts to eradicate an unflattering reputation from the web perfectly encapsulates a crucial point about the nature of the internet. More specifically, it speaks to the internet's ability to dismantle privilege and serve as an essentially egalitarian space where having power doesn't necessarily mean you can drown out the voices of the many.

....This is a real and significant question, particularly for victims of revenge porn — people who've had images of themselves distributed online without their consent....Notably, many of the methods that UC Davis's consultants used to try to bury the university's pepper spray incident are the same methods that women are told to use when they're fighting back against revenge porn: creating positive content, "Google-bombing" positive search results, and strengthening one's online "brand" are all go-to strategies for cleaning up a negative internet past.

There's a problem here: "As of this morning," the reason that pepper spraying showed up so widely was because of reports that UC Davis tried to scrub the internet of references to pepper spraying. That put it back in the news. But how about before the SacBee report? I did a Google search that excluded stories about the $175,000 scrubbing effort in an effort to recreate UC Davis's internet presence as of a few days ago. Here it is:

Unless I missed something, the top 50 hits didn't include a single reference to pepper spraying. Every reference you see in a normal search is there solely because of the SacBee report.

Now, there's no telling how much of UCD's success was due to the scrubbing effort, and how much was due to the simple passage of five years. Still, it's likely that the scrubbing was responsible for at least some of it, and that's good news for revenge porn victims: the advice they've been given really does seem to work. Granted, it's probably less effective if you don't have $175,000 to spend on it, so Romano's point about money having power on the internet is still valid. Nonetheless, it's still the right basic approach. After all, it sure seems to have worked for UC Davis.

1For the record, my search term was: "uc davis" -scrub -175 -175K -175,000 -google -image -consultant -online

We Need to Quit Trying to Cut Middle-Class Income Taxes

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 11:48 AM EDT

The boffins at the American Enterprise Institute have created an online tool that allows you to investigate the effects of various kinds of tax policy. This sounds like a lot of fun, though I haven't tried it out myself. But Jim Tankersley has:

To break it in, one of AEI's economists, Alex Brill, used the Center's modeling tools to probe our question about middle-class tax relief. He compared several proposals, taken from the current presidential campaign, to see which ones helped the most middle-class taxpayers.

....Brill examined three methods of reducing taxes for middle-income filers, each of which would amount to about a $95 billion tax cut in its first year. One would double the standard deduction that Americans are allowed to claim on their income taxes. One would expand the 10 percent tax bracket to allow more income to be taxed at that low rate, and one would expand the 15 percent tax bracket for the same reason. (Under our progressive income tax system, your income — minus deductions — is taxed at 10 percent for the first chunk of money you earn, and then the next chunk is taxed at 15 percent, and so on, up to a top rate of nearly 40 percent for the highest-earning filers.)

There's a big problem with this: Middle-class Americans barely pay any federal income tax as it is. They're on the hook for payroll taxes, and they pay a smallish share of various other federal taxes (corporate taxes, excise taxes, etc.), but income taxes? The chart on the right is taken from data compiled by the Tax Policy Center, and it's pretty clear: the average middle-class taxpayer forks over only 4.3 percent of their earnings each year on their Form 1040. Even upper-middle-class taxpayers pay less than 10 percent. You have to get to an income above $200,000 before you pay even 15 percent.

Needless to say, most Americans have no clue about this. If you ask someone in the middle, they probably figure they're paying 20 percent or more in income tax. This is what gives groups like the tea partiers such power: they're convinced that they already pay mind-boggling rates of income tax that are then thrown away by corrupt politicians on welfare programs for the undeserving. But they don't. Most of them barely pay a dime for these programs.

There are several takeaways from this:

  • We should quit trying to cut middle-class income taxes. They're already really low.
  • If we want programs like pre-K and universal health care, the middle class will have to help pay for it. It can't all come out of the pockets of the rich.
  • Conservatives need to stop saying that 47 percent of Americans pay no taxes. That number is strictly for federal income tax. If you include payroll taxes, state taxes, sales taxes, and so forth, everyone in America but the very poorest pays into the system.

Thus endeth our federal income tax lesson for the day.

Competition Comes to the Cable Industry

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 10:41 AM EDT

Competition!

President Barack Obama will publicly back regulators’ efforts to open cable set-top boxes to competition, as he issues an executive order Friday designed to stimulate market competition across the private sector.

The order will task federal agencies with identifying markets that the government might be able to help overhaul to the benefit of consumers and businesses. White House officials said federal action can do for the set-top cable box what regulators did for landline telephones more than 30 years ago. Back then, many Americans paid the phone company not only for their landline connection, but for renting the physical phone itself.

Good for Obama. The cable industry is one of the least competitive in the country—and, not coincidentally, one of the least loved. This action won't open up the cable infrastructure itself to competition, but at least it will open up one small part of it.

Like Ma Bell a few decades ago, you can expect the cable companies to issue dire warnings about the vast technical difficulties of making sure cable boxes work properly with their delicate lines, but don't believe it. It's all just hogwash. The technical specifications for interconnection aren't rocket science, and they can be reasonably regulated the same way phone equipment is.

Competition is good. Competition is good. Competition is good. The only people who don't like it are the monopolists who profit from extracting rents from the rest of us. Anything that increases it is a net positive benefit.

Almond Bandits Have Gone High Tech

| Thu Apr. 14, 2016 6:47 PM EDT

Well, here's a headline you don't see every day: