Friday Cat Blogging - 22 July 2016

Somebody pointed out last week that we haven't seen Hopper for a while. Is that true? Maybe! So here she is, in all her green-eyed glory.

Have a nice weekend, everyone. We deserve one after four days of the Republican convention.

I work for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so I'm keenly aware that I'm not allowed to endorse candidates. That means y'all will just have to guess who I'm voting for in November. I apologize for having to keep you in such suspense.

Until recently, though, I had no idea why non-profits weren't allowed to endorse candidates. Then I began hearing about the "Johnson Amendment" from Donald Trump. Obviously someone put a bug in his ear, and he's been repeating it like a mantra for weeks now. So what's this all about?

The “Johnson Amendment,” as the 1954 law is often called, is a U.S. tax code rule preventing tax-exempt organizations, such as churches and educational institutions, from endorsing political candidates. At the time, then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson was running for re-election, and he and other members of Congress pushed the amendment to stop support for their political opponents’ campaigns, George Washington University law professor Robert Tuttle has explained. Many have also argued the amendment served to stop black churches from organizing to support the civil rights movement.

“All section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,” the IRS explains of the rule on its website. “Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”

There you go. So why has Trump suddenly decided this is a threat to democracy? You can probably guess: because conservative churches want to endorse Republican candidates and give them lots of money without losing their tax-exempt status. Jerry Falwell Jr. explains:

In recent years, religious liberty group the Alliance Defending Freedom has advocated for its repeal, arguing that the law is unconstitutional and lets the IRS “tell pastors what they can and cannot preach,” and “aims to censor your sermon.”...“This is something that could make a difference with Christian voters in the fall,” Falwell says. “It is almost as important for Christians as the appointment of Supreme Court justices.”

My first thought about this is that it would provide yet another avenue for big money in politics. I can imagine rich donors setting up, say, the Church of the Divine Supply Siders and then funneling millions of dollars in dark money through it. Fun!

On the other hand, in a world of Super PACs and Citizens United, why bother? They can already do this easily enough, just as churches can set up "action committees" that are legally separate and can endorse away.

I'd genuinely like to hear more about this. Within whatever framework of campaign finance law we happen to have, is there any special reason that nonprofits shouldn't be able to endorse, organize, and spend money on behalf of a candidate? I have to admit that no really good reason comes to mind. Am I missing something?

Did you miss Donald Trump's post-convention press conference? No worries! Twitter has you covered:

The latest survey of purchasing managers suggests bad news for Britain:

The U.K. economy likely contracted in July as businesses responded to the uncertainty created by a vote to leave the European Union by cutting output and payrolls, according to a survey of purchasing managers at manufacturers and service providers....The U.K. PMI is a measure of activity based on monthly questioning of 600 manufacturing companies and 650 service providers since 1998. It has a close correlation with official measures of economic growth.

....Markit said the measure fell to 47.7 in July from 52.4 in June, the sharpest one-month drop on record. A reading below 50.0 signals a decline in activity, and a reading above that level indicates an expansion.

Is this a temporary dip, or a sign of things to come? Obviously we don't know yet. But that's a helluva big drop for a single month.

Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Thursday, July 21, 2016.

It's over. Finally. Here are today's five best moments:

  • Trump says blandly that he might not come to the aid of our NATO partners in the Baltics if Russia invades them. Mitch McConnell chalks this up to a "rookie mistake." Newt Gringrich won't even go that far: "Estonia is in the suburbs of St. Petersburg," he says. "I'm not sure I would risk nuclear war." How confidence inspiring.
  • Trump's speech leaks hours early, upstaging the evening speakers. It is a stunningly dystopian description of a country in terminal decline, possibly the gloomiest speech ever given by a presidential contender.
  • Jerry Falwell Jr. passes along a strained joke his father told him. Dad was musing about being interviewed by Chelsea Clinton, who asked him what the biggest threats to the country are. He answered "Osama, Obama, and yo mama." This went over well on the convention floor.
  • Trump pal Tom Barrack highlights one of the worst deals Trump ever made: overpaying for the Plaza Hotel and then being forced to sell it at a loss a few years later. This is supposedly an example of what a great dealmaker Trump is.
  • Trump tells America: "I am your voice." And: "Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it." If this reminds you of the kind of thing a cult leader might say, you're not alone. And the whole speech was spat out with a delivery that was scarily reminiscent of Mussolini or Fidel Castro.

By the end of Trump's speech, his campaign slogan for the next three months was clear: "Make America Fear Again." Buckle up.

No, Police Fatalities Are Not Going Up

Here's another chart to prepare you for Donald Trump's speech tonight. It shows the number of police fatalities since the violent crime peak of 1993. For 2016, I've extrapolated from the number of fatalities through today. As you can see, there's nothing scary here. The number is down from two decades ago and basically flat over the five years.

Tom Barrack is now telling us about the time he sold Trump the Plaza Hotel. "He played me like a Steinway piano," Barrack said. Trump was a steely-eyed negotiator, a tiger in the jungle.

Who is he kidding? The Plaza Hotel was a disastrous deal—for Trump. Trump went with his gut and overpaid enormously. He bought it for $407 million—far more than it was worth at the time—spent over $50 million in renovations, and then, when he was going through bankruptcy proceedings, was forced to sell it in a deal that valued the hotel at $325 million. Barrack and his boss took Trump to the cleaners.

What's more, Barrack was highlighting the absolute worst part of this deal: that Trump was so eager to get the hotel that he agreed to forego normal due diligence and instead allowed Barrack to just give him a list of stuff that needed fixing. It was massive negligence on Trump's part. If Harvard has a list of the worst, laziest deals ever made, this one would make the top ten list.

Yet this is the example they're touting to show what a great businessman Trump is? That takes real balls. It's a testament to the fact that the Trump campaign figures it can just say anything. The Trump hagiography is once again beamed out to millions of people and nobody will ever hold them to account.

LMAO

The Trump campaign apparently just sent out the following email:

Seems fine right? Only, uh, Trump hasn't given his speech yet. Oops?

Crime Is Down and People Feel Safer

Donald Trump is apparently planning to deliver a hair-raising speech tonight focused on the "crime and violence that today afflicts our nation." According to Trump, homicides are up, Washington DC is a killing zone, police shootings have skyrocketed, and illegal immigrants are "roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens."

Whew. Just to prepare you for all this, here's a chart you've seen many times before showing the rate of violent crime since its peak in 1993:

We don't have official numbers for 2015 yet, and they might show a small uptick. That's the nature of these things. But it's pretty obvious that America is a considerably safer place than it's been in decades.

But as the redoubtable Paul Manafort says, what about how people feel? Do they feel safe? That's a hard question to answer, but Gallup asks it every year. Here's the latest. I've included Excel's trendline just to make it clear which direction this is going:

Bottom line: crime is way down and people feel safer than ever. Try not let Donald scare you too much tonight.

"Friends, delegates and fellow Americans: I humbly and gratefully accept."

Donald Trump is set to give his much-hyped speech accepting the Republican nomination for president tonight at the RNC in Cleveland. But—oops!—it looks like Politico got their hands on a draft of the speech a bit early

Per Politico

I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored.

The most basic duty of government is to defend the lives of its own citizens. Any government that fails to do so is a government unworthy to lead.

It is finally time for a straightforward assessment of the state of our nation.

I will present the facts plainly and honestly. We cannot afford to be so politically correct anymore.

Go read the whole thing.