The latest weirdness from the Donald Trump campaign is its June fundraising efforts. Trump is apparently having trouble raising money from the usual Republican suspects, but wants to avoid the embarrassment of yet another FEC report showing that he has no money. So he's turning to small-dollar fundraising via email. This shouldn't have been a problem. Conservatives mastered this approach to raising money a long time ago, so all Trump had to do was hire one of the many firms who have accumulated gigantic email lists and specialize in wringing donations out of ordinary citizens.

But apparently he didn't do that. For the past few days, reports have come in of people overseas being spammed with Trump fundraising emails. And not just any foreigners: members of foreign parliaments. This is peculiar, to say the least. First, it's illegal. Foreigners aren't allowed to contribute to presidential campaigns. Second, it's easy to avoid. Just purge your email list of addresses ending in .uk, .dk, etc. Any experienced email shop would already have done this. So where did Trump's email list come from?

Josh Marshall has been following this for several days, and he has a theory:

So Tim Watts is my new best friend in the Australian federal parliament. MP Tim Watts. Needless to say, we're pals now because he's getting bombarded by the Trump campaign asking for money to fight 'Crooked Hillary'....When I chatted with Tim last night (US Time) he said he'd gotten two more Trump emails in the last 7 hours hours. But when he showed me the emails, something pretty weird was immediately apparent.

They weren't actually just from Trump. One was from the Trump campaign. The other was from a pro-Trump Super Pac called Crippled America PAC.

Now, normally (i.e., completely separate from anything to do with Trump) it would be entirely unremarkable that someone was getting fundraising emails both from a campaign and also Super PACs supporting the campaign. They're likely both buying lists from the same vendor or even different vendors of likely Trump voters.

But remember, Tim is a foreign citizen and part of the government in another country. We've already speculated about the various ways all these foreign legislators could have ended up on Trump's list. The more we've looked into it, it seems increasingly implausible that he got this list from a list vendor. Not impossible just not likely at all. It now seems more probable that the Trump Organization simply had these emails in some business related database and decided to dump them into the email hopper for the fundraising blitz or just found some site that had a zip file of foreign government officials and used that.

....Given what I've said above, the existence of this list almost has to originate in Trump Derpland. A virtual certainty. So how did the same list end up in the hands of a Trump SuperPac? I looked up Crippled America PAC and as of their last filing just a couple weeks ago, they're total budget was $40. No m or b after that $ sign, forty bucks, the price of a fancy dinner. So obviously CAP was just stood up and actually started operating just now. And now they're showing up in Tim's inbox.

Marshall believes that this is a pretty obvious sign of coordination between the Trump campaign and a Trump Super PAC, which is a big non-no. What's more, they didn't even bother trying to hide it. There are undoubtedly ways they could have coordinated while still passing legal muster, but either they didn't have time for that or didn't know they weren't allowed to coordinate or just didn't care.

Wherever the list came from, I guess it's a pretty lousy one: I've gotten several Trump fundraising emails too, and I'm pretty sure there's nothing in my background that suggests I'd be soft touch for a Trump donation. Conversely, I never received a Ben Carson email while he was busy with his campaign grift. Apparently he at least cared enough to hire a decent vendor.

A sample from Monday is on the right. It comes from contact@victoryemails.com, whatever that is. I got another one from rnc@gopvictory.com, which I suppose originates from the Republican National Committee? All very strange.

A few months ago the FCC—or its three Democratic commissioners, anyway—proposed doing away with set-top boxes. They're basically a rip-off, doing next to nothing in return for a monthly rental that lasts forever. The FCC's proposal was for cable companies to make all programming information available in a standard format, so anyone could use it. You could replace your cable company's box with Roku or Apple TV or an app or just buy a box from someone else.

The cable companies all went ballistic, of course, and now the FCC is backing down in the face of an alternative proposal from the cable industry. The proposal itself isn't too bad—it relies on "Consumer Apps" downloaded from the cable companies—but the question is whether the industry is serious about it. The Register's Kieren McCarthy is pretty skeptical:

The cable industry's first target will be to ensure nothing is agreed for six months until after the presidential elections in November. Tom Wheeler's term as FCC chair doesn't officially end until 2018 but traditionally, the FCC chair steps down when a new president comes into office.

Adding to that, and helping to explain her sudden dislike of the cable box plan she voted in favor of, Jessica Rosenworcel's term officially ends this week — 30 June 2016. Even though she has been approved for a second term by President Obama, Congress is dragging out her confirmation in an effort to force Wheeler to resign early. If he resigns, Senate Republicans have said, they will confirm her. Wheeler so far is refusing to blink.

If the Senate doesn't approve Rosenworcel by the end of the year — December 31, 2016 — she has to leave the FCC: a casualty in partisan warfare fed by cable company dollars.

With the FCC taking on the cable industry in so many other ways — net neutrality rules and data privacy rules being just two — it looks as though the regulator has bitten off more than it can chew with its cable box plan.

It was a good idea while it lasted. Unfortunately, Republicans, as usual, are inexplicably opposed to any regulation that increases competition in the TV world. It's unclear why they so consistently take the side of a monopolistic industry hated by consumers, but there you have it.

Good news from Emmanuel Saez:

The latest IRS data show that incomes for the bottom 99 percent of families grew by 3.9 percent over 2014 levels, the best annual growth rate since 1998....

But you knew there had to be a but, right?

....but incomes for those families in the top 1 percent of earners grew even faster, by 7.7 percent, over the same period.

So income inequality continues to increase. Still, over the past two years, the non-super-rich have finally made some gains after seeing their incomes crater during the Great Recession. That's good news as far as it goes. The remaining question is whether this increase is mostly confined to the top 10-20 percent, or if workers in the bottom half of the income distribution also made gains. The chart below, which shows that hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory workers have increased about 3.2 percent over the past two years, suggests that the working class has done about as well as the overall bottom 99 percent. The gains of the past two years appear to be fairly widely spread.

Donald Trump's Beautiful Chinese Ties

Greg Sargent on Donald Trump's continuing appeal:

One core assumption driving Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy is this: Voters will see even the seamier details of Trump’s business past as a positive, because even if he got rich by milking the corrupt system, Trump is now here to put his inside knowledge of the corrupt system to work on behalf of America — on your behalf. Trump has repeatedly said this himself in various forms.

In other words, he may be a bastard, but he's our bastard. But Sargent wonders if he can survive stuff like the video excerpt on the right. "Where are the ties made?" David Letterman asks. From offstage comes the answer: "The ties are made in China." Trump doesn't even respond. He just smirks. Sargent: "This suggests once again that there is no reason to assume that the big debate over globalization and trade will necessarily play to Trump’s advantage. Democrats will be able to point out that Trump repeatedly profited off of foreign labor in ways that he himself now claims sell out American workers."

Could be! It's not clear at this point that Trump can do anything that his fans won't forgive, but maybe this will do it. For more details, the New York Times has you covered.

Donald Trump is a very unusual candidate who's likely to break some of our usual presidential voting patterns. Right? Sure, he'll get the angry white males that always vote Republican, but other groups might shy away from Trump and vote for the Democratic ticket in larger numbers than usual.

Not so fast, says Alan Abramowitz. If you compare current polls to the 2012 exit polls, it turns out that most demographic groups are split almost precisely the same:

Trump’s highly unusual background, personality, and unorthodox views on certain issues have led to considerable speculation that his nomination could upset normal voting patterns by producing high defection rates among some groups of Democratic and Republican identifiers and putting new states in play in November....[These claims] are probably mistaken. These data show that the American electorate remains deeply divided along party lines. Democrats and Republicans, including independents who leaned toward each party, differed sharply on economic, cultural, and racial issues. Moreover, Democrats and Republicans, including Sanders Democrats and non-Trump Republicans, held strongly negative feelings about the opposing party’s likely nominee.

I guess we'll see. I'd like to say that it depends on just what kind of moronic stuff Trump does over the next few months, but that really doesn't seem to matter much. Anyone still willing to vote for Trump after his antics so far this year is probably going to vote for him no matter what.

Thursday Morning News Roundup

Here's the news roundup for this morning:

  • BoJo has taken himself out of the race to be Britain's next prime minister. I guess he didn't feel like trying to clean up the mess he made by winning the Brexit vote.
  • Donald Trump apparently had a special console in his bedroom at Mar-a-Lago so he could listen in on staff phone calls.
  • Bill Clinton met privately with Attorney General Loretta Lynch in Phoenix. It was just a social call, they said, but everyone agrees the optics are pretty terrible.

And that's just the past few hours....

Weekly Flint Water Report: June 17-23

Here is this week's Flint water report. As usual, I've eliminated outlier readings above 2,000 parts per billion, since there are very few of them and they can affect the averages in misleading ways. During the week, DEQ took 258 samples. The average for the past week was 12.13.

Donald Trump vs. the World

Via Pew Research, here's what the world thinks of Donald Trump:

Trump does poorly pretty much everywhere. His top ratings come from China, where authoritarian bullies are taken for granted, and Italy, which probably figures Trump looks positively presidential compared to Silvio Berlusconi. Question: Is this good or bad for Trump? Is it bad because he'll have a hard time getting things done if everyone hates him? Or good because this just proves that everyone knows he'll put America first?

On a related note, the Greeks really dislike the United States on a whole range of issues. What's the deal with this? What have we done to Greece lately?

A couple of months ago Ars Technica ran a story about one of Donald Trump's penny-ante moneymakers from the aughts: the Trump Institute. It all started when a pair of journalism grad students, Joe Mullin and Jonathan Kaminsky, became fixated on a late-night infomercial for the National Grant Conferences:

Why did the NGC infomercial captivate us?...It wasn’t the enthusiastic couple who founded NGC, Mike and Irene Milin, proclaiming that numerous government grants were there for the taking. No, we couldn't stop watching because NGC just felt so sleazy.

....Intrigued, we spent the better part of a year researching NGC, its claims, and its founders’ pasts. We ultimately found that NGC—with several seminar teams circling the country and clearing tens of millions of dollars each year in sales—and its memberships produced no money for any of the customers we interviewed.

....Trump wanted a piece of the action, so he struck a licensing deal with the Milins in 2006. The couple created the “Trump Institute,” using much of the same pitch material and some of the same pitchmen.

Today the New York Times picks up on the story:

As with Trump University, the Trump Institute promised falsely that its teachers would be handpicked by Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump did little, interviews show, besides appear in an infomercial — one that promised customers access to his vast accumulated knowledge. “I put all of my concepts that have worked so well for me, new and old, into our seminar,” he said in the 2005 video, adding, “I’m teaching what I’ve learned.”

Reality fell far short. In fact...extensive portions of the materials that students received after forking over their seminar fees, supposedly containing Mr. Trump’s special wisdom, had been plagiarized from an obscure real estate manual published a decade earlier.

Together, the exaggerated claims about his own role, the checkered pasts of the people with whom he went into business and the theft of intellectual property at the venture’s heart all illustrate the fiction underpinning so many of Mr. Trump’s licensing businesses: Putting his name on products and services — and collecting fees — was often where his actual involvement began and ended.

....Asked about the plagiarism, which was discovered by the Democratic “super PAC” American Bridge, the editor of the Trump Institute publication, Susan G. Parker, denied responsibility....Ms. Parker, a lawyer and legal writer in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., said that far from being handpicked by Mr. Trump, she had been hired to write the book after responding to a Craigslist ad. She said she never spoke to Mr. Trump, let alone received guidance from him on what to write. She said she drew on her own knowledge of real estate and a speed-reading of Mr. Trump’s books.

In a nutshell, Trump sought out a couple of late-night hustlers who had already been in trouble with the law, taped an infomercial for them, and then pocketed the licensing fee. (They were the "best in the business," said the Trump executive who brokered the deal.) Later, having learned the hustle, Trump ended his contract with the Milins and opened up Trump University. He had learned all he needed and was ready to start pushing the hard-sell conference business on his own. Seven years later, he's perfected the hustle even further, so now he's running for president. You're welcome.

GE has been working on this for a while, and today they got their wish:

The U.S. Financial Stability Oversight Council said Wednesday that it voted this week to remove its label on GE Capital as “systemically important financial institution,” which carries more stringent oversight. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who chairs the council, said the change shows that designation is a “two-way process”—a rebuttal to critics who have said its process for branding “systemic” firms is opaque and doesn’t give firms a clear road map on how to reduce risk.

This is good news:

GE Chief Executive Jeff Immelt said changed market conditions and new regulations had caused GE Capital’s returns to fall below its cost of capital....Since deciding to wind down the finance arm, GE Capital has signed agreements for the sale of about $180 billion of businesses and has closed about $156 billion of those transactions.

In other words, new regulations made it more expensive to do business as a huge financial services firm, so they decided to shrink. This is exactly the way it should be. Higher capital requirements and other rules give financial firms a choice: either accept the more stringent rules as a way of making themselves safer, or else shrink enough that they don't pose a systemic danger in the first place.

Most banks are paying the higher costs, and that's fine. As long as the additional capital requirements are sufficient, they're now safer and less likely to collapse during a financial crisis. GE Capital chose the other route, and that's fine too. So far, this is all working out pretty well.