Kevin Drum

Quote of the Day: The Simple, Ever-So-Simple World of Donald Trump

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 6:38 PM EST

Behold the business acumen of Donald Trump:

Donald Trump says he's unfazed by the prospect of running against Michael Bloomberg....At one point, Trump cast doubt on Bloomberg's business success, suggesting that the head of the Bloomberg media empire wasn't actually worth the $36.5 billion estimated by Forbes. "I don't believe it, I don't believe it," Trump said.

"I mean if somebody came in...and comes up with a better machine than him, people stop using it," Trump said. "I don't even know why other companies haven't come up with a better machine. I mean why? It's so simple."

This comes from a man who managed to run into the ground an airline, a hotel, a casino empire, and an endless series of late-night shills. But he apparently has no idea why Bloomberg terminals are popular, nor any idea that Bloomberg has a number of large competitors. Compare to this:

"I mean if somebody came in...and builds a better car than Toyota, people stop buying them. I don't even know why other companies haven't come up with a better car. I mean why? It's so simple."

This is the same man who says it's "so simple" to get Mexico to pay for a wall and force China to stop devaluing its currency; that he would "totally succeed" in creating jobs, reducing the budget deficit, stopping nuclear weapons in Iran, and saving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; that it's "easy" to get OPEC to produce more oil; and that it's "very simple" to get ISIS to surrender.

Now you understand why Trump thinks everything is easy. It's because he has no idea what goes into any of this stuff. Every time he tries to do something that's even slightly out of his wheelhouse (namely property development and bluster) he fails miserably, but he still thinks everything is easy. And his fans believe him.

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Raw Data: Lead Poisoning of Kids in Flint

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 5:48 PM EST

I wanted to get a read on historical levels of lead poisoning of children in Flint, Michigan, so I put together the chart on the right. There's no consistent data available for the entire 20-year period, but I think I made fairly reasonable extrapolations from the data available.1 What you see is very steady and impressive progress from 1998 to 2013, with the number of children showing elevated blood lead levels (above 5 micrograms per deciliter) declining from approximately 50 percent to 3.6 percent.

Then Flint stopped using Detroit water and switched to Flint River water, which corroded the scale on their lead pipes and allowed lead to leach into the water. The number of children with elevated lead levels rose to 5.1 percent and then 6.4 percent.

In late 2015, Flint switched back to Detroit water. Preliminary testing suggests that this had a beneficial effect: the number of children with elevated lead levels dropped back to 3.0 percent. However, these numbers are still very tentative, so take them with a grain of salt.

UPDATE: I've added a line that shows the percentage of children with lead levels above 10 m/d. I wouldn't want my kids to have anything above 5 m/d, but 10 is where things really start to get scary.

1Here are my data sources and extrapolations. For early years, only data for children above 10 m/d was available, but later years showed both 10 m/d and 5 m/d, which suggests a rough factor of 6x between the two. Also, some years only show data for Genesee County, but other years show both Genesee and Flint, which suggests that Flint levels are about 1.6x higher than Genesee.

  • 1998-2000: From Michigan Department of Health & Human Services chart here, extrapolated from Michigan ---> Flint (factor = 0.87) and 10 m/d ---> 5 m/d (factor = 6x)
  • 2001-2004: From 2005 MDHHS report here, page 54, extrapolated from 10 m/d ---> 5 m/d
  • 2005-13: From MDHHS data here.
  • 2014: From Hurley Medical center data here, adjusted for Genesee ---> Flint (factor = 1.6)
  • 2015: From Hurley Medical center data here, slides 10-11, adjusted for Genesee ---> Flint.
  • 2016: From preliminary MDHHS data for post-switch levels here.

Full spreadsheet here.

Here's What Passes For a Brilliant Jailbreak In Orange County

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 2:40 PM EST

My hometown of Orange County isn't in the news much, so it's a little sad that our latest brush with fame is the escape of three inmates from the central jail in Santa Ana. Here's the long version of how they did it:

And here's the short version: They cut out a vent cover and climbed to the roof. Then they rappelled down by tying together a bunch of sheets. This is what passes for brilliant in Orange County. Sigh.

How Big a Dick Is Ted Cruz? A Quiz.

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 1:14 PM EST

Against my better judgment sometimes, I have focused most of my campaign reporting energy on making the case against Donald Trump. But there are other candidates out there who are plenty loathsome in their own way, and when you say the word "loathsome" Ted Cruz comes immediately to mind.

Over at the mothership, Tim Murphy and David Corn make the case that Ted is really one of the all-time huge pricks. Take this quiz first to test your knowledge of Cruzology, and then go read it.

  1. Did one of Ted's former pastors say that "he pretty much memorized the Bible, but I think he did it mostly so that he could humiliate kids who got quotes wrong"?
  2. Did a veteran of the 2000 George Bush campaign say that "the quickest way for a meeting to end would be for Ted to come in"?
  3. Did Ted's wife once admit that Ted "can be a bit of a jackass sometimes, but at least you know where he's coming from"?
  4. Did Bob Dole say that Ted "doesn't have any friends in Congress"?
  5. Did Mitch McConnell respond that "I'm pretty sure Dole is wrong, but I can't figure out who his one friend is"?
  6. Did a John McCain advisor say that his boss "fucking hates Cruz"?
  7. Did President Obama once get overheard asking Joe Biden "what in God's name is that asshole's problem, anyway"?
  8. Did Rep. Peter King say about a possible Ted Cruz nomination, "I hope that day never comes; I will jump off that bridge when we come to it"?
  9. Did John Boehner quip that Ted was "a great American resource; when we threatened to deport him back to Canada, they suddenly agreed to drop their softwood lumber subsidies"?
  10. Did Lindsey Graham say the choice between Trump and Cruz was like having to choose between "death by being shot or poisoning"?
  11. Did a former high school teacher just shake his head and close his door when a reporter knocked and asked what he remembered about Ted?
  12. Did a former law school acquaintance say that when she agreed to carpool with Ted, "We hadn't left Manhattan before he asked my IQ"?
  13. Did Ted's torts professor remark that "I don't think there was a single question I asked the entire year where Ted didn't instantly raise his hand and practically wet his pants pleading to be called on"?
  14. Did his Princeton freshman roommate call Ted "a nightmare of a human being" and claim he would get invited to parties hosted by seniors because the upperclassmen pitied him?
  15. Did a college girlfriend of Ted's say "he was pretty smart, but sex with him once was enough—if you can call it sex"?
  16. Is it true that in interviews with four of Ted's college acquaintances, "four independently offered the word 'creepy'"?

Answer: All statements whose ordinal number takes the integer form 2n+1 or 2n-1 have been invented. The rest are real

Take It Easy on Hillary Clinton and the 1994 Crime Bill

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 11:51 AM EST

A few days ago Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that he was disappointed in Bernie Sanders' opposition to reparations, which I thought was unfair given Coates' own equivocal position in his epic 2014 Atlantic cover story. However, I didn't bother suggesting that it was unfair to pick on Sanders and not Hillary Clinton. Coates made it clear that he was disappointed in Sanders because Sanders is a radical and still doesn't support reparations. Fair or not, that made sense, so I skipped it.

I was largely alone in this. By far the biggest criticism leveled at Coates has been precisely the fact that he didn't mention Clinton even though she plainly doesn't support reparations either. In a campaign season, I suppose that's inevitable, and Coates defends himself here. But this goes too far:

Voters, and black voters particularly, should never forget that Bill Clinton passed arguably the most immoral “anti-crime” bill in American history, and that Hillary Clinton aided its passage through her invocation of the super-predator myth.

There are two big problems here. First, the 1994 crime bill was supported by most black leaders at the time.1 It was addressing a real problem, and no one at the time knew that violent crime was already starting a historic two-decade drop. Despite that, both Bill and Hillary Clinton now acknowledge that the crime bill was flawed, especially the carceral aspects. I don't imagine this is an argument that's ever going to be resolved, but for all the bill's faults, I think it's (a) unfair to use hindsight and hyperbole ("most immoral in American history") to vilify the actions of people 20 years ago who had legitimate reasons to think they were in the middle of a huge social problem, and (b) even more unfair to suggest the bill was central to the problem of mass incarceration. The vast majority of the carceral state had been put in place long before.

Second, suggesting that Hillary Clinton aided the passage of the 1994 crime bill via a speech she gave in 1996 speaks for itself. Hate Clinton all you want, but she hasn't invented time travel.

1And, as several people have reminded me, by congressman Bernie Sanders.

Here Is Today's Viral Correction

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 11:11 AM EST

I don't usually go in for funny corrections, but this one in the Daily Beast deserves the attention it's getting:

Correction: A previous version of the story indicated that Liz Mair would prefer a “dry dog turd” for president over either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. She would only prefer the turd to Trump.

Glad we got that cleared up. It makes sense, given this author squib at the end of the most recent piece she wrote for the Daily Beast:

Liz Mair is an advocate for immigration reform, an opponent of ethanol mandates and subsidies, and an opponent of Donald Trump.

You could say that. More here and here. Normal Monday blogging will commence shortly. Then again, Maybe this is normal Monday blogging these days.

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Raw Data: How #White Are the Oscars, Anyway?

| Sun Jan. 24, 2016 1:58 PM EST

The chart on the right shows the trend of black Oscar nominees in the four acting categories by decade. In the most recent decade—including the past two years, in which no blacks were nominated—there were 18 black nominees, which amounts to 9 percent of all acting nominees during that period. Here's a comparison (for Americans only) with top positions in other fields:

  • 4-star military officers: 13 percent
  • Members of Congress: 10 percent
  • University presidents: ~3 percent
  • Senators: 2 percent
  • Nobel Prize winners: 1.1 percent
  • Fortune 500 CEOs: 0.8 percent
  • Billionaires: 0.2 percent
  • Governors: 0

POSTSCRIPT: Most of the #OscarsSoWhite backlash has come in the acting categories, which is why I made this chart. The odd thing about this is that the acting categories are a gaudy aurora borealis compared to the paleness of the rest of the awards. With the exception of songwriting, a grand total of eight black artists have been nominated in every single other category over the past decade. Here are the percentages:

The Anti-Trump Campaign Starts to Get Real

| Sun Jan. 24, 2016 11:01 AM EST

Now we're talking. I'm not sure how much money is behind this, but here's the kind of attack ad against Donald Trump that I've been waiting for. There has to be a ton of stuff like this available, and it doesn't cost much to find it and put it together.

Obviously this piece would have to be edited down to 30 or 60 seconds. And I'd probably recut it to make it meaner. Nor it is enough by itself: it's just one of several avenues that might do some real damage. But it's a start.

Let's Have a Contest For Best Alternate "Against Trump" Cover

| Sat Jan. 23, 2016 5:54 PM EST

Just keep in mind: this is a cover that's supposed to persuade conservatives to turn against Trump.

Theoretical vs. Experimental Physics: Quien Es Mas Macho?

| Sat Jan. 23, 2016 2:49 PM EST

Warning! I have not followed Deflategate except in passing.1 I don't have the kind of grassy knoll knowledge of what happened that lots of people seem to. The naive question that I'm about to pose may inspire jeers in those of you who have immersed yourselves in it.

Anyway: the first thing that I and thousands of other geeky types thought of when Deflategate first burst onto the scene was the Ideal Gas Law. I didn't actually try to calculate anything, but I remember vaguely thinking that the temperature probably dropped about 5 percent between the locker room and the field, so the pressure in the footballs might plausibly have dropped about 5 percent too. Then again, maybe the volume of the footballs changed slightly. Hmmm. Then I got sick and didn't care anymore—about Deflategate or anything else. Joe Nocera writes about this today:

John Leonard is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology....When the Deflategate story broke after last year’s A.F.C. championship game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts [in January], he found himself fixated on it....“Of course, I thought of the Ideal Gas Law right away,” Leonard says, “but there was no data to test it.”

....In May, the data arrived....Numbers in hand, Leonard went to work. He bought the same gauges the N.F.L. used to measure p.s.i. levels. He bought N.F.L.-quality footballs. He replicated the temperatures of the locker room, and the colder field. And so on....The drop in the Patriots’ footballs’ p.s.i was consistent with the Ideal Gas Law.

By early November, he had a PowerPoint presentation with more than 140 slides....A viewer who watched the lengthy lecture edited it down to a crisp 15 minutes....It is utterly convincing.

This is what's always puzzled me. You don't need to be an MIT professor of Measurement and Instrumentation to get a good sense of what happened, and you don't need to spend a year pondering the minutiae of the Ideal Gas Law and writing 140 slides about it. Get a bag of footballs, inflate them to 12.5 psi, and take them outside on a 50-degree day. Wait an hour and measure them again. Maybe do this a few times under different conditions (wet vs. dry, different gauges, etc.). It would take a day or two at most.2 The league office could have instructed the referees to do this quick test just to see if 11.3 psi footballs were plausibly legal, and that might have been the end of it. Why didn't that happen? Why didn't lots of people try this? Even if you only have one football to your name, it wouldn't be hard to at least get a rough idea. Inflate it, put it in your refrigerator for an hour, and then remeasure it.

Since I wasn't paying attention, it's quite possible that lots of people did this. Did they? Did the league? What happened here?

1Yuk yuk.

2Because I'm an optimistic guy, I'm just going to assume that this would be done in at least a minimally rigorous way. Nothing that would be necessary for publication in Nature. Just good enough to satisfy Mr. Lantz, my high school physics teacher.