From today's LA Times coverage of the Hillary Clinton campaign:

On a day in which Clinton was hoping to inflict considerable damage on Donald Trump — this time, by ripping into his economic agenda — her campaign was on the defensive, scurrying to clean up the latest damaging revelations in years-old messages that were sent by Clinton and her staff and released as the result of a lawsuit.

....The fresh batch of emails was pried from the State Department thanks to a lawsuit filed by the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch. It revealed what appeared to be seedy dealings by Clinton’s team at the agency....The emails are not devastating, but they are damaging as Clinton struggles to boost her trustworthiness with voters.

I have developed a fairly regular habit of ignoring the latest Hillary "scandal" for a day or two, just to see how it's going to play out. Nearly all of them turn out to be bogus, and it's hardly worth the time to figure out how and why. So I just wait for other people to do it.

Even the ones that really are a problem are almost always overblown. Emailgate is a prime example. Yeah, it was bad judgment. Hillary screwed up, and if you think that's reason enough not to vote for her, fine. But when you dig into the actual facts, there's surprisingly little there. She had a private server. She turned over all her work emails when asked to. In an unprecedented judicial ruling, they were all released to the public and there was virtually nothing of interest there. Of the "classified" emails, most were retroactively classified (at a low level) in a dreary episode of interagency feuding; three were marked classified at the time but were marked improperly (and were trivial); and 110 were emails Hillary "should have known" were classified, but which dealt with a drone program that everyone on the planet already knew about.

So sure, it's a screwup. But there's not really that much to it. So what about the latest batch of emails. Do they really show "seedy dealings" by Team Hillary?

I dunno. One is from a Clinton Foundation executive asking a Hillary aide if she can set up a meeting for a big donor with someone at State. The Hillary aide says she'll see what she can do, and then blows it off. In another, a foundation executive asks for help getting someone a job. He's told that everyone already knows about the guy, and "Personnel has been sending him options." In other words, he's blown off. In yet another, it turns out that a Clinton aide spent some of her own time helping the foundation look for a new CEO.

So....what? People in Washington schmooze with people they know to help other people they know? Shocking, isn't it? My guess is that the average aide to a cabinet member gets a dozen things like this a week. If all we can find here are two in four years—both of which were basically blown off—the real lesson isn't that Hillary Clinton's State Department was seedy. Just the opposite. It was almost pathologically honest.

Let's get back to the Olympics. In particular, the seemingly endless griping about NBC's coverage of the Olympics. I'm tired of it.

Why? Because it emanates from a place of—what? White-collar privilege? Creative-class privilege? Or maybe just plain old class privilege. Basically, it comes from people who assume that we all have jobs that allow us to keep a TV on in the background all the time. And for people like that, it makes sense to want the Olympics live and unedited.

But most people don't have jobs like that. They get up, they go to work, they come home, and the only chance they have to watch the Olympics starts around 6 or 7 at night. So what do they want? Whatever random stuff happens to be live at the time? Of course not. They want to see all the stuff that's happened throughout the day.

And no, they're not equally fascinated by any old sport, just for the sheer thrill of watching the best of the best compete against each other. Nor are they devotees of the hammer throw or epee—the more obscure the better for the hipsters of Olympic viewing. They only watch this stuff every four years or so, and they mostly want to see swimming and gymnastics and track. They don't know any of the athletes, so they like the little mini-docs that get them up to speed on who they are and what they've been through—even if those segments do promote gauzy narratives aimed mostly at women. And they're Americans, so they mostly like to see events where Americans are favored.

Does that make them a bunch of rubes? I don't think so, though your mileage may vary. They're just ordinary people. And they're the ones that NBC televises the games for. Not for the one or two million of you who swear you want the games live so you can watch the hammer throw at 10 in the morning.

In other words, give it a rest. We all know how smart and sophisticated you are. We all know you have nice desk jobs where no one minds if you keep a streaming feed going all day long in a corner of your computer display. We all know you're a big, big fan of the hammer throw.

That's all fine. But keep it to yourself. Most of the country just doesn't have the opportunity to follow your lead. They've got jobs, dinners to make, and kids to put to bed. Give them a break.

Donald Trump says Barack Obama is the "founder" of ISIS. Let's hear his explanations for this. First, there's this, on the Hugh Hewitt show yesterday:

HH: I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace.
DT: No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do.... It’s no mistake.

So he meant it literally. Then there's this, about 20 seconds later:

HH: I’d just use different language to communicate it....
DT: But they wouldn’t talk about your language, and they do talk about my language, right?

So he didn't mean it literally. It was deliberate hyperbole in order to get people talking. Then there's this, from the wee hours of this morning:

It was just sarcasm! Why don't you people get this?

So why does Trump do this stuff? The most likely explanation, of course, is that he's a child who can't control his mouth, and then invents transparently dumb excuses when he's caught with his hand in the cookie jar. But there's another possibility.

Everyone remembers the famous LBJ quip about why he called his opponent a pig fucker, right? Johnson admitted it wasn't true, but "I want him to have to deny it," he explained.

Well, what have we been talking about for the past few days? First, that Hillary Clinton doesn't really want to eliminate the Second Amendment. She just wants background checks and so forth. Then, that Obama and Clinton aren't really the founders of ISIS. They just created the vacuum that helped ISIS thrive.

This probably won't help Trump. But it might. Getting the media to obsess for days about Hillary Clinton's position on gun control and her part in the rise of ISIS doesn't really do her any good. When you're explaining, you're losing.

In fact, done more adroitly, this might be a pretty diabolical strategy. Unfortunately for Trump, he's so ham-handed about it that it hurts him more than it does Hillary. So far, anyway. But if he gets better at it, you never know.

You all know about the Prisoner's Dilemma game, right? You and a partner are arrested and taken to separate rooms. The police offer each of you the deal on the right. What should you do?

The best strategy is for both of you to clam up. You'll each get a token 1-year sentence and then you're free. But—if you rat out your partner, you go free while she gets 20 years. So you should rat her out. But of course, she's thinking the same thing. So you both rat each other out and you both get 5 years in the clink. You should have clammed up!

The best strategy here depends on your partner. Can you trust her? Is she gullible? Do you hate her guts so much you don't care about a jail sentence? There's a whole stew of things going on. So which personality characteristics are most important in a situation like this?

James Pethokoukis points today to a new paper that sheds some light on this. A team of researchers in Spain got 541 volunteers at a fair1 to play a similar set of games over multiple rounds. Then they took all the data and let an algorithm loose to seek out clusters of common behavior. They found five. Here they are in order of prevalence:

  • Envious: Works to ensure their partner doesn't do any better than they do.
  • Pessimist: Maximizes the worst-case outcome
  • Optimist: Maximizes the best-case outcome.
  • Trustful: Always assumes their partner will play nice.
  • Undefined: No particular personality driving them.

The authors add that these basic personality types appear to be independent of both age and sex:

Our results open the door to making relevant advances in a number of directions. For instance, they point to the independence of the phenotypic classification of age and gender. Although the lack of gender dependence may not be surprising, it would be really astonishing that small children would exhibit behaviors with similar classifications in view of the body of experimental evidence about their differences from adults....Our research does not illuminate whether the different phenotypes are born, made, or something in between, and thus, understanding their origin would be a far-reaching result.

About a third of the population is in the envious subgroup, which seems to be unable to understand a win-win situation. They're just hellbent on not losing relative status. The optimistic and pessimistic subgroups are both ego-driven: their decisions are based solely on risk aversion and don't take into account what their partners might do. Trustful is...well, it's what we all hope our partners are. The undefined subgroup, though undefined, "can have a strong influence on social interactions because its noisy behavior could lead people with more clear heuristics to mimic its erratic actions."

Take it for what it's worth. Maybe nothing. Who knows? But writing about it gave me an excuse to ignore Donald Trump for a while.

POSTSCRIPT: But wait! There's a Trump connection after all. Doesn't that envious subgroup seem to define him pretty well? And his followers too? If so, it suggests that his core group of supporters might be about a third of the country.

1Yes, this means it wasn't just the usual collection of bright undergrads. All sorts of people participated, and they won tickets to the rides depending on how they did in the game.

For the first time in my career, I've recently gotten a little self-conscious about my blogging. I'm keenly aware of how bad it is to blog nonstop about every dumb thing Donald Trump says or does, and yet, it really is hard to resist. And besides, he routinely pushes everything else out of the news, which leaves me with a lot less to choose from even if I did want to cut down on my Trump blogging. What to do? What. To. Do?

Ah, screw it. Here's Trump talking about how corporations ought to provide day care for their workers' kids:

The billionaire real estate mogul, who previously voiced his opposition to government-funded universal pre-K programs, said in Newton, Iowa, in November 2015 that he had visited many companies that offered workers on-site child-care centers — and added that he offered such programs himself.

"You know, it's not expensive for a company to do it. You need one person or two people, and you need some blocks, and you need some swings and some toys," Trump said. "It's not an expensive thing, and I do it all over. And I get great people because of it. Because it's a problem with a lot of other companies."

Trump pointed specifically to two programs: "They call 'em Trump Kids. Another one calls it Trumpeteers, if you can believe it.1 I have 'em. I actually have 'em, because I have a lot of different businesses."

I don't have to tell you how this story ends, do I? These two programs aren't for his employees. They're for guests at his hotels and golf resorts who want to pay for child care while they're out on the town or hitting the links. Trump does not, in fact, provide child care for any of his employees.

I dunno. Do you think he was lying? Or did he really not know? I could go either way.

1Yeah, I can believe it.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that NBC is the worst Olympics broadcaster ever in history. Todd VanDerWerff explains why NBC is so bad today, and I was curious to finally read a serious take on the subject. So what does he tell us?

First, there's a bit of pro forma stuff about the broadcasts being racist and sexist, which I think we can safely ignore. Then VanDerWerff complains that NBC spends too much time on "tired storylines" about the athletes instead of just airing the damn sports. That's odd. Is he watching the same Olympics I am? I've been surprised at the lack of canned mini-docs about the athletes and their families. It's true that the ones I've seen are mostly gauzy feel-good stories—which VanDerWerff compares to the "homey, forced folksiness of a Ronald Reagan campaign ad"—but that's hardly an NBC sin. Every sports network in America relies on this kind of thing.1

Beyond that, there seem to be three main complaints about NBC's coverage of the Olympics:

  • They're tape delayed.
  • They're too America-centric.2
  • They're too edited. We want to see all the downtime between races!

I have opinions about all this, but it occurs to me that I should first take a poll. I know I have readers in other countries, and I'd like to know what the prime time coverage of the Olympics is like elsewhere. So let me know in comments. Are they tape-delayed? Are they oriented toward hometown athletes? Do the events get edited to remove dead time?

There's no need to exaggerate or get outraged. Just the facts, please. What is prime time coverage like in your country?

1And needless to say, this was invented by ABC, with its "Up Close and Personal" coverage of the Olympics in the 70s.

2Obviously this is easier for some countries than for others. If you're broadcasting from Denmark, there just aren't all that many medal-contenders to focus on.

Nobody Wants to Talk About the P-Word

The New York Times reports that neither major candidate for president is talking much about the poor:

Mrs. Clinton, who is scheduled to speak about her economic plans on Thursday near Detroit, is campaigning as an advocate for middle-class families whose fortunes have flagged. She has said much less about helping the millions of Americans who yearn to reach the middle class.

Her Republican rival, Donald J. Trump, spoke in Detroit on his economic proposals three days ago, and while their platforms are markedly different in details and emphasis, the candidates have this in common: Both promise to help Americans find jobs; neither has said much about helping people while they are not working.

“We don’t have a full-voiced condemnation of the level or extent of poverty in America today,” said Matthew Desmond, a Harvard professor of sociology. “We aren’t having in our presidential debate right now a serious conversation about the fact that we are the richest democracy in the world, with the most poverty. It should be at the very top of the agenda.”

Is that true? Pretty much. OECD numbers on poverty are fairly simplistic, but they provide a decent look at which rich countries have the most people in poverty after you account for social welfare payments. Greece edges us out for the top spot, but only barely. That's really something when you consider just what Greece has been through lately.

I noted a few months ago that even Bernie Sanders didn't talk too much about poverty during his campaign. Everybody seems to have either given up on it or else decided that it's a campaign loser, so they shouldn't talk about it. Sadly, I suspect they're right.

Bob Woodward says that Donald Trump isn't the only one using "excessive rhetoric" these days. Hillary supporters are doing it too:

He went on to cite a Wednesday column by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote Trump’s children “should be ashamed” of their father for his remark about “Second Amendment people” and called the GOP nominee “a disgusting human being.”

Friedman’s opinion of Trump as “disgusting” is a “reasonable opinion,” Woodward said, but said he couldn’t recall another time in 40 years of covering politics when someone violated the “zone of protection” generally respected for candidates’ children.

“That makes no sense. So, the excess is feeding both sides on this,” he said.

Um, these are "children" in their thirties who are actively part of Trump's campaign—actively lying, actively giving interviews, and actively telling anyone who will listen that Donald will be the best president in history. It so happens that I'd normally give them a pass anyway—I nearly always give family members a pass for supporting their kinfolk—but if you get into the arena, then you're in the arena.

Anyway, Friedman was right: the Trump kids should be ashamed of their father. He's still Dad, and they still love him, and that's fine. But they should still be ashamed of him.

Glenn Kessler landed himself in the perfect storm this morning: a tale of (a) Trump largesse, (b) told by Sean Hannity, and (c) confirmed by the Trump campaign. Already, you know it's a lie. There are not enough Pinocchios in the world for something like this.

Not that it matters, but this particular fairy tale is about Trump sending his private jet down to Camp Lejeune in 1991 to ferry home some Gulf War soldiers whose military flight had been FUBARed. We all know perfectly well that Trump would never do something like this unless there was some kind of massive publicity tied to it, because Trump never engages in any charitable act unless there's something in it for him. So it's already about 99 percent likely to be fiction.

Sure enough, it turns out that the real story is just a demonstration of Trump's lousy business judgment—something far more common than Trump's acts of charity. When he bought the Eastern Shuttle in 1989 and turned it into the Trump Shuttle, he negotiated a terrible deal. Not only did he overpay, but he also accepted five extra planes he didn't need instead of a lower purchase price. So the Army leased the planes from him and used them for various tasks in order to free up military planes. In 1991, they were assigned to ferry troops home from Camp Lejeune.

Does this matter? I suppose not, compared with insulting a Hispanic judge, attacking a Muslim family that lost a son in Iraq, and expressing his hope that someone will murder Hillary Clinton. But it's sort of Trump in a nutshell: Take credit for a charitable act even though it's a flat-out lie that's trivially easy to fact-check and debunk. He doesn't care. He know that guys like Sean Hannity will hype it to his credulous Fox News audience, and none of them will ever read Glenn Kessler. And if they do find out it was a lie, they won't care. Trump 2016!

I award this story 58 gazillion Pinocchios.

Feds Move to Open Up Marijuana Research

Drug policy expert Mark Kleiman has been telling me for years that the biggest obstacle to high-quality research on marijuana is the fact that there's only one authorized supply source for legitimate medical studies. So I'm totally prepped to see this as good news:

For years, the University of Mississippi has been the only institution authorized to grow the drug for use in medical studies. This restriction has so limited the supply of marijuana federally approved for research purposes that scientists said it could often take years to obtain it and in some cases it was impossible to get. But soon the Drug Enforcement Administration will allow other universities to apply to grow marijuana, three government officials said.

....“It will create a supply of research-grade marijuana that is diverse, but more importantly, it will be competitive and you will have growers motivated to meet the demand of researchers,” said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

....The new policy does not set a cap on the number who could qualify. Any institution that has an approved research protocol and the security measures needed to store dangerous drugs can apply. Researchers will still have to receive approval from federal agencies to conduct medical studies of marijuana, including from the D.E.A. and the Food and Drug Administration.

It's about time. It's more or less insane that we have tons of research on opioids, which are far more dangerous and addictive than marijuana, but hardly any on cannabis. Is that because drug warriors have been afraid of what the research might show? Maybe—but it's a ridiculous concern. If cannabis turns out to be pretty useless, that's good to know. If it turns out to be helpful, that's even better to know. Either way, the more research the better.