Kevin Drum

A Cable Host Explains Why They Covered Donald Trump's Publicity Stunt Last Night

| Fri Jan. 29, 2016 1:02 PM EST

Last night I griped about the endless news coverage Donald Trump got for a political stunt that obviously had no purpose except to get endless news coverage. A few minutes ago, MSNBC host Chris Hayes and Jim Tankersley of the Washington Post had a Twitter conversation about this:

Hayes:

this is not very complicated.

there are 3 cable networks competing for viewers. 1 had a debate that will draw millions and millions of viewers. Other 2 have to figure out how to best compete with that. Usually there's nothing to do but be crushed. And then: boom! A competing event to cover

obviously this hits home to me, but people outside of this industry *vastly* underestimate a) the competitive pressure and b) the appetite for spectacle, theatrics, etc...

Tankersley:

This wud be more convincing if CNN/MSNBC didn't show so much Trump at all other times.

On Wed, CNN gave Trump 70 percent of all its candidate coverage. That includes both Ds & Rs.

I report, you decide.

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Economic Growth Slows to 0.7 Percent in Q4

| Fri Jan. 29, 2016 12:37 PM EST

Yuck. The US economy slowed down a lot in the fourth quarter of last year. GDP growth clocked in at a hair less than 0.7 percent:

For the year, GDP increased 2.4 percent, which is pretty much what it's been for the past six years. So overall, this isn't crushingly bad news. It just means the economy continues to putter along without really building up any steam. That's better than Europe or China can say. Still, in the fourth quarter growth slowed, income growth slowed, and inflation was close to zero. And, as we all know, the stock market has been tanking lately. It's sure not looking like it was a great idea to start raising interest rates—and if the Chinese economy goes south, it's really not going to look like it was a great idea to start raising interest rates.

Naturally we want a political spin on all this, and that's pretty easy: If this is just a blip, and growth returns over the next two quarters, then the presidential contest will remain a close-run thing. But if the economy flags badly for the next couple of quarters, Democrats are going to have a very, very hard time holding onto the White House. Are you ready for President Trump?

Three Things I'm Still Waiting For

| Fri Jan. 29, 2016 11:56 AM EST
  1. Donald Trump's new corporate policy allowing unrestricted carry at his golf resorts.
  2. A look at the "very nice place" where Trump keeps all the Bibles that people send him.
  3. A list of the "25 different stories" documenting his pre-invasion opposition to the Iraq War.

Pentagon Wants a Few More Troops to Fight ISIS

| Fri Jan. 29, 2016 11:32 AM EST

The Pentagon wants more troops for the fight against ISIS:

Pentagon officials have concluded that hundreds more trainers, advisers and commandos from the United States and its allies will need to be sent to Iraq and Syria in the coming months as the campaign to isolate the Islamic State intensifies.

....With the liberation of the Iraqi city of Ramadi last month, coupled with recent gains in northern Syria, senior military leaders say that the war effort can now focus on isolating — and then liberating — the Islamic State-held cities of Mosul in Iraq, and Raqqa in Syria. “The reason we need new trainers or additional trainers is because that’s really the next step in generating the amount of combat power needed to liberate Mosul,” Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for the American military in Baghdad, said last week. “We know we will need more brigades to be trained, we’ll need more troops trained in more specialties.”

....The United States has had little success in persuading allies to provide more troops. But Mr. Carter and General Dunford do not want the United States to be the only source of more forces. With ISIS posing a threat to European countries, they are trying again.

I will note a couple of things. First, the Pentagon didn't call for carpet bombing of ISIS strongholds. Perhaps they know something that Ted Cruz doesn't? Second, the US has tried repeatedly to get more support from our allies, including those in the Middle East, and gotten nowhere. Some of them are willing to contribute a little bit of air power, but that's it. None of them have any interest in providing troops. But perhaps Ted Cruz knows the magic words to change their minds.

Last night Cruz said his enthusiasm for carpet bombing wasn't just tough talk. "It is a different, fundamental military strategy than what we've seen from Barack Obama." Uh huh. In reality, it's as much a "strategy" as Donald Trump's call to "bomb the shit out of them." It's nothing more than big talk with nothing behind it. The Pentagon has no interest in this because they know it would be useless. They have a hard time finding enough worthwhile targets as it is.

However, there's something that hasn't gotten enough attention in all this: Cruz and Trump really have tapped into Ronald Reagan's military spirit, and I'm surprised the rest of the field hasn't figured this out. Reagan basically talked tough and spent a lot of money, but shied away from foreign interventions. The invasion of Grenada and his support for the Contras were small things that never risked any US troops. He pulled out of Beirut when things got tough there, never committed any troops to Afghanistan, negotiated with the Iranians, and to the horror of neocons everywhere, nearly concluded an arms deal with Gorbachev in Reykjavík that would have banned all ballistic missiles.

This is what Cruz and Trump are doing. They talk tough and promise to spend a lot of money, but both of them explicitly want to avoid much in the way of serious intervention overseas. And this is popular. It's what a lot of conservatives want. If the rest of the world wants to go to hell, let them go to hell in their own way. Bill Kristol is appalled, I'm sure, but his brand of endless intervention has never really caught on—and after Iraq and Afghanistan it's even less popular than ever. Cruz and Trump have figured this out.

My Non-Debate Wrap-Up

| Fri Jan. 29, 2016 12:05 AM EST

I may have missed most of the debate, but I did manage to catch the pre-debate festivities. What a horror show. Everybody knew exactly what Donald Trump wanted, and they gave it to him anyway. I flipped over to CNN and Brianna Keilar was interviewing Trump in his plane and letting him walk all over her. She throws him a softball about Fox so that Trump has an opportunity to announce that "someone" at Fox called to apologize to him. She asks him about his past support for abortion and he baldly changes the subject, basically daring Keilar to try to get an answer out of him—so she shrugs and moves on. I switch to MSNBC and they're split-screening with the Trump event. Switch back to CNN and now they're split-screening too. Switch to Fox and the very first question of the debate is, "Senator Cruz, do you have any zingers about Donald Trump you'd like to share with us?"

Curtis Houck informs us that the network evening news shows spent 10 minutes on the Trump boycott and less than two minutes on the actual debate. ABC News tells us that Trump was mentioned 11 times in the first 30 minutes of the debate. For the past two days Trump's boycott has been practically all anyone could talk about.

I know, I know: he's the frontrunner, we have to cover him, yada yada yada. But there's something pathological going on here. It's as if the press corps is a bunch of eight-year-olds tugging on daddy's arm begging for his approval. Trump refuses to answer any of their questions, but they don't press him because he might get mad and stop talking to them. He lies to their faces and they just move on. He puts on an obviously fake "veterans" event designed to show that he's the alpha chimp, and everyone rushes to cover it.

What the hell is going on? Seriously. What does everyone find so damn fascinating about the guy?

Amazon Is Becoming Just Another Mortal Company

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 5:52 PM EST

Amazon stock tumbled 11 percent after today's earnings report. Here's why:

Amazon recorded $35.75 billion in sales in last year’s final three months [and] $482 million in profit....Analysts, however, were expecting $36 billion in sales and net income of $754 million.

I assume no one was concerned about Amazon missing its sales forecast by a minuscule amount, so this was all about its profit number. But in the past, investors didn't much care about Amazon's profitability. They just trusted Jeff Bezos to grow the company and shovel earnings endlessly into ever more growth opportunities. Eventually Amazon would own the whole world.

Not anymore. Amazon's sales growth is now merely mortal, not stratospheric, and investors want to see Amazon prove it can actually make money as a mature corporation. I guess pretax income of 1.3 percent just isn't going to cut it in the future.

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Trump Is Going to Raise Taxes on the Rich!

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 2:29 PM EST

I'm not a fan of New York magazine's "conversations" with 100 Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. I suspect that its sample is skewed; its conversations are skewed; and that pulling out just the juicy quotes from longer interviews makes it even more skewed. And all of these skew in the same direction: to make Republican voters look angry, dumb, and ignorant. I very much doubt that it provides a remotely accurate picture of how the average conservative in Iowa and New Hampshire really feels about life.

That said, I can be just as suckered by an eccentric quote as the next guy. Here is Nicole Martin of Manchester, New Hampshire:

Trump is bold, and he says what’s on his mind, but I feel like he wouldn’t have gotten as far as he has in business if he wasn’t a good negotiator. At our office, we plugged his tax plan into our software, to see, and it’s genius. We couldn’t believe it. It’s still a little higher taxes for people that are wealthy, but it’s not going to hurt them. And it’s going to save a lot of the smaller people a lot of money. They need it. He’s just not going to tax them. It makes sense.

I really want to know more about this. They "plugged" Trump's tax plan into their "software"? What software is that? And how does it tell them that Trump's plan means "a little higher" taxes on the rich? On average, Trump's plan would cut taxes on the rich by more than a million dollars.

Oh well. He's going to make America great again. What else do you need to know?

New Science Tells Us That Men In Politics Are Blowhards

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 12:54 PM EST

A couple of researchers in Switzerland wanted to judge how confident students in different career paths were. First, they split them into groups of 12 and gave each a short test:

  1. In which year was the Nobel Prize in physics awarded to Albert Einstein?
  2. In which year was pope John Paul I (the direct predecessor of John Paul II) elected Pope?
  3. In which year did the reactor accident happen in Chernobyl?
  4. In which year was Elvis Presley born?
  5. In which year did the first flight with the supersonic jet Concorde take place?

The answers are 1921, 1978, 1986, 1935, and 1976. My guesses were 1920, 1979, 1986, 1940,1 and 1973, so I was off by a total of 10 years. How do I think this compared with the rest of my group? I'm going to say I was third best. If it turns out that I was, in fact, only fifth best, I was overconfident by two ranks.

So how did everyone do? The first answer is simple: as you'd expect, men were vastly overconfident in their results and women were vastly underconfident. The chart on the right shows the second answer: political scientists were way overconfident and humanities students were way underconfident. Buck up, history majors! You know more than the budding politicians even if they're oh-so-sure they know everything.

Bottom line: Science™ says that men in politics are blowhards. Ignore them. Women with English degrees know more than they think. Listen to them. That is all.

1This means that Elvis was drafted into the army at age 23. Doesn't that seem a little late?

No Debate Live-Blogging Tonight

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 12:12 PM EST

For those of you who have just returned from a vacation on the moon, there's a Republican debate tonight. It's on Fox News at 9 pm Eastern, and Donald Trump will not be participating.

Nor will I. Instead, I have important birthday celebrations to attend to. This mostly involves trying out a new Italian place nearby, which sounds a whole lot more pleasant than yet another two hours of rehearsed talking points about the appeaser-in-chief and the death of America as we know it. You're on your own for that. I'll try to catch up when I get home.

Quote of the Day: No Bullet Train For You

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 12:03 PM EST

From Dan Richard, the head of California's bullet train authority:

It may take us a little longer than we said to do this.

"He did not elaborate," says the deadpan account in the LA Times. I am shocked, shocked.