Hillary Clinton gave a speech today. Patrick Caldwell summarizes:

Democrats haven't been shy about pointing out the racial undertones in Donald Trump's campaign, but Hillary Clinton took that message to a new level Thursday, calling out the GOP nominee for purposefully whipping up racist bigotry and resentment...."From the start," Clinton said, "Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia. He's taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party. His disregard for the values that make our country great is profoundly dangerous."

Why did she do this? The most popular explanation is that she was giving "permission" for moderate Republicans to stay home in November. Donald Trump, she said, isn't a traditional Republican. He's a hate-monger who's hijacked the party as a vehicle for his loathsome brand of racism and xenophobia. Even if you're a loyal Republican, you don't have to support that.

But I'll propose a different explanation: she was giving the press permission to talk about Donald Trump's racism. So far, they've tiptoed around it. But once the candidate herself calls it out, it invites a thousand think pieces about Breitbart, the alt-right, the GOP's history of tolerating bigotry, Trump's troubling background, and dozens of other related topics. Surrogates can blather all they want about this, but it doesn't truly become a mainstream subject until the actual candidate for president makes it one.

This is part of the agenda-setting power that presidential candidates have. Donald Trump has used it endlessly, and now Hillary Clinton is using it too. Trump has made his bed, and Hillary is making sure he has to lie in it.

Mad at the Fed? Get Mad at Congress Instead.

Jon Hilsenrath writes today that the Fed's reputation is in the gutter these days:

For anyone seeking to explain one of the most unpredictable political seasons in modern history, with the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, a prime suspect is public dismay in institutions guiding the economy and government. The Fed in particular is a case study in how the conventional wisdom of the late 1990s on a wide range of economic issues, including trade, technology and central banking, has since slowly unraveled.

Once admired globally for their command of the economic system, central bankers now are blamed by the left and right for bailouts during the financial crisis and for failing to foresee and manage forces suffocating the global economy in its aftermath.

To the extent that this is about the ways the global economy has changed, and the challenges of figuring out how to respond to these changes, this is all fair. But to the extent that it's a criticism of the way the Fed has managed policy since 2008, I sure wish there had been more than one sentence about other policymakers who fell down on the job:

“I certainly myself couldn’t have imagined six, seven years ago that we would be employing the policies we are now,” Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said to a packed ballroom in New York earlier this year. She lamented the government has leaned so heavily on the Fed to stimulate the economy while tax and spending policies were stymied by disagreements between Congress and the White House.

Ben Bernanke felt the same way as Yellen, so this isn't a partisan lament. But "disagreements" sells this short. President Obama may deserve some grief over some of his policies, as well as his premature pivot to austerity politics, but the biggest problem has been clear all along: congressional Republicans who were hellbent on opposing any and all fiscal responses to the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. I don't think the Fed did too badly, all things considered, but a jet flying on only one engine can only do so much.

As for public disapproval of the Fed, sure, some of that is from lefties who opposed the bailouts. But the vast bulk of it is from tea party conservatives who are endlessly in a panic about hyperinflation and "easy money"—precisely the hysterical fears the Fed had to fight to do even as well as it did. If the Ron Paul contingent had had their way, we'd probably be staring at 20 percent unemployment right now. But they're still convinced otherwise, and they remain mad at the Fed for not bringing on the golden age they're so sure was just around the corner.

Who knows? Maybe Hilsenrath has an entire article teed up about the role of Congress in all this. Done well, it would be a very good read.

The University of Chicago sent the following statement to incoming students this week:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called "trigger warnings," we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual "safe spaces" where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

Conservative cheered and liberals frowned. Over at Vox, Emily Crockett writes about safe spaces and what they mean:

"For me as a black woman, it's really nice to just go out with other black women sometimes," said Sabrina Stevens, an activist and progressive strategist. "I have to do so much less translation. When you're black around white people, you have to explain every little thing, even with people who are perfectly nice and well-meaning."

....Stevens describes many different safe spaces that are important to her own life: breastfeeding support groups that are explicitly women-only to help new moms feel more comfortable talking openly about their bodies, or hair salons that function as an informally black-women-only social space as well as a service.

....Other safe spaces emerge organically, like hair salons, gay clubs, or black churches. The shooting at Mother Emanuel in Charlestown was also a violation of a safe space, which added another layer of devastation to an already terrible crime.

It's a nice piece about the origin and modern usage of safe spaces, and it's worth reading. In the end, it boils down to the fact that all of us sometimes need to hang out in places where we can relax completely and not worry that our words will taken the wrong way or that we have to endlessly explain ourselves. "Safe spaces" is just modern jargon for this ancient concept.

But there's one thing worth getting straight. My assumption is that the University of Chicago is only saying that students shouldn't assume that any formal part of the campus is a safe space. Not classrooms, not offices, not dorms, not rec centers, not the quad. I think that's wise. But I also assume they have no problem with students creating private groups that are meant to be safe spaces. They don't support them but neither do they forbid them or discourage them. They're indifferent to them.

Is that right? Or does the university go further and try to hinder even the private and voluntary creation of safe spaces?

I'm a big proponent of high-quality, universal pre-K. At the same time, I understand that the evidence in favor of it isn't rock solid. Overall, I think the case for pre-K is fairly strong, but it's a victim of the fact that it's really hard to conduct solid research on long-term outcomes. In particular, there's always the problem of scale: even if you get great results from a pilot program, there's no guarantee that you can scale it nationwide and still maintain the same quality. This is a particular problem with Head Start, the longest-running and best known pre-K program in the country. It has been scaled, but multiple studies have suggested that it's had disappointing results.

But time marches on, and this allows us to conduct new research as Head Start kids grow up. The longer the baseline, the better chance we have to truly measure differences in children who attended Head Start. On that score, we have some good news and bad news from the Hamilton Project.

First the good news. The study compared children from the same families where one attended Head Start and the other didn't. Their birth cohort started in 1974, and they used the 2010 edition of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, so their oldest subjects were in their thirties. What they found was more positive than previous surveys. For example, here's the result on higher education (which includes licenses and certificates):

The Head Start kids started and completed higher education at substantially higher rates than kids who didn't attend. The study shows similar results for high school graduation.

So that's great. But one of the things we've learned about pre-K is that its biggest impact is often on non-cognitive traits. And sure enough, the Hamilton study showed strong effects on self-control and self-esteem:

So what's the bad news? I should more accurately call this cautionary news, but take a look at those green bars. They show Head Start having a bigger effect compared to other preschools than it does compared to no preschool at all. That can only happen if the other preschools were collectively worse than doing nothing. In some cases the effect is pretty large, which in turn means these other preschools were a lot worse than doing nothing at all.

This is possible, of course. But it doesn't seem all that likely, which raises questions about whether the data analysis here has some flaws. For the time being, then, I consider this tentatively positive news about Head Start. But I'll wait for other experts to review the study before I celebrate too much.

Earlier this week the AP wrote a story delivering the astonishing news that Hillary Clinton once met with a Nobel-Prize-winning microcredit guru that she had been friends with for 30 years. This was part of a piece claiming that 85 of 154 people she met with as Secretary of State had also contributed to the Clinton Foundation. That's more than half of her meetings—except that this number doesn't count anyone in a government position, which accounts for the vast, vast majority of her meetings. They left that part out in the promotion of the piece, leading people to believe that literally half of all her meetings over four years as Secretary of State had been with Foundation donors. Then, just to add insult to injury, they refused to release the list of people she had met with, which almost certainly would have driven a stake through the entire article.

Today they followed up with this:

It's a conspiracy: The 2016 campaign features one candidate who warned against the "vast right-wing conspiracy" and another who was a leader of the so-called "birther" movement.

Donald Trump and his surrogates hint at a mysterious "illness" afflicting rival Hillary Clinton. Pushing back, Clinton warns of murky ties between Trump and the Russian government, insinuating that her Republican opponent may be a puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin...[and] she is preparing a Reno, Nevada, address on Thursday that will accuse Trump of supporting an "alt-right" campaign that presents "a divisive and dystopian view of America."

....She described Trump Wednesday night on CNN as a candidate who is campaigning on anger and hatred. "Donald Trump has shown us who he is and we ought to believe him," she said. "He is taking a hate movement mainstream. He has brought it into his campaign. He's bringing it to our communities and our country."

So let's get this straight. Trump's conspiracy theories are (a) Obama was born in Kenya and (b) Hillary Clinton has serious health problems. Both are demonstrably untrue.

Clinton's conspiracy theories are (a) Trump has a surprising number of Russia-friendly policies and (b) Trump appeals to angry white nationalists and uses extreme language. Both are demonstrably true.

Ladies and gentlemen, your objective and balanced press corps at work.

Immigration hardliner Mark Krikorian finds a silver lining in Donald Trump's ham-handed softening on immigration:

Trump probably just threw away his only remaining chance to win in November with Wednesday’s Jeb Bush impersonation. He won the primaries with immigration control as his marquee issue; had he stuck to his guns, and still lost, the GOP Brain Trust, not to mention the Democrats, would more plausibly have been able to argue that opposition to their agenda was the reason.

....But now that he’s channeling Little Marco and Low-Energy Jeb on immigration, that story line has evaporated....It’s liberating, in a sense. While Trump was still clearly seen as the voice of immigration skepticism, I was worried that his oafish shenanigans would taint the immigration issue, especially if he was defeated by Hillary. But now that he’s no longer that voice in any meaningful sense, I can watch the circus undisturbed. His defeat will be on his head alone.

When a party loses an election, the arguments afterward inevitably coalesce into two sides:

  • We were too extreme. We need to move to the center.
  • We were too moderate. America wants a genuine liberal/conservative.

Republicans have been arguing the latter for years. They've retroactively decided that George Bush wasn't a real conservative. John McCain wasn't a real conservative. Mitt Romney wasn't a real conservative.

But Trump provides them with a problem because he's hard to pigeonhole. He's a hardline conservative on some things, but totally off the reservation on others. So if he loses, the party is going to have a bloody civil war over what to do next.

Krikorian was worried that if an immigration hardliner lost in a landslide, Republicans would conclude that they really did need to compromise on some kind of moderate comprehensive immigration plan and put the issue behind them. He was right to be worried about this. But now he's a happy man. He can plausibly argue that Trump lost because he softened on immigration. This ignores the fact that Trump has been way behind in the polls ever since the conventions and was headed for defeat even before the Great Softening, but at least it's a reed he can cling to. Hope lives on.

The wise new heads surrounding Donald Trump have obviously given up on attracting more than a handful of non-white votes—which is probably a smart move, all things considered—and this means they have to reach out to ever more white voters if they hope to win. This is why, for example, Trump has been saying recently that Hillary Clinton is a terrible bigot who doesn't care about black people. This is certainly not going to attract any black votes, but "Democrats are the real bigots" has been a trope on the white right for years. It might well attract a few more white votes.

But this dynamic can play out in odd ways. Trump's signature issue is immigration, and you'd think that the way to appeal to more whites is to stay tough. But no. It turns out that white voters in the exurbs are a little put off by the whole rapists/thugs/wall schtick, and aren't that keen on an army of jackbooted immigration police rounding up Mexicans and hauling them back south. To appeal to these folks, the wise heads are apparently advising Trump to soften his immigration stance. So now he says "I have never liked the media term mass deportation," and then delivers this little tactical nuke on Sean Hannity's town hall:

No citizenship. Let me go a step further—they'll pay back-taxes, they have to pay taxes, there's no amnesty, as such, there's no amnesty, but we work with them. Now, everybody agrees we get the bad ones out. But when I go through and I meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject, and I've had very strong people come up to me, really great, great people come up to me, and they've said, "Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person who's been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and their family out, it's so tough, Mr. Trump," I have it all the time. It's a very, very hard thing.

Later on he polled Hannity's audience on what his immigration stance should be. (Seriously.) So Trump has now basically pivoted to the same position as every other Republican: no immigration police; work with the "good" illegal immigrants on a path to legal status; get tough on border security; and this absolutely positively isn't "amnesty" no matter how much it sounds like it. This is pretty much the position that Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz all had, and it's basically the position of the Gang of 8 a few years ago. Until today, Trump attacked this position as craven and weak. Now he's all for it. Gotta win all those exurban soccer moms, after all. The only thing left is for him to casually tell us that "build the wall" was meant kind of metaphorically all along, and most of it will end up being a "virtual wall" of drones and security cameras.

I've been wondering for months why the immigration hardliners were so sure Trump would stick to his guns on this stuff. After all, he's lied about practically everything and shown an eager willingness to change his positions any time he thinks it will benefit him. So what made them think he'd act any differently on immigration?

Beats me. But they're stuck now. They have to defend Trump because he's all they've got. Perhaps the saddest fate is reserved for Ann Coulter, who's launching her new book this week:

Yes, that hit bookstores the very week Trump bailed on immigration. But Coulter is forced to defend Trump anyway, no matter how stupid it makes her look. It couldn't happen to a nicer person.

UPDATE: Apparently Coulter has had second thoughts about defending Trump: "Could be the shortest book tour ever if he's really softening...on immigration," she said this evening. Then she followed up with a bitter and sarcastic rant on Twitter. Sad.

From Media Matters:

Fox News host Sean Hannity, who has been informally advising Donald Trump’s presidential campaign while serving as its primary media cheerleader, has effectively turned his nightly prime-time show into Trump’s second campaign headquarters. According to a Media Matters analysis, Hannity’s program has given Trump what amounts to more than $31 million in free advertising in the form of dozens of fawning interviews with the candidate since Trump declared his candidacy in June 2015.

Hannity has devoted just over 22 hours of airtime to broadcasting interviews with Trump since the launch of Trump’s campaign....These numbers only count the amount of time Hannity spent airing interviews featuring Donald Trump — they do not include the countless time Hannity spends carrying the Trump campaign's water without the candidate present, including similarly fawning interviews with Trump family members, surrogates, and supporters.

This correctly gets across the point that Hannity has been so obsequious in his support for Trump that he practically counts as an arm of the Trump campaign. It's embarrassing to watch. At the same time, I suspect the real value of Hannity's shilling is reasonably close to zero, since I doubt that his show reaches more than a handful of truly undecided voters. Basically, he's just preaching to the choir.

Now, I suppose this could help goose turnout among the true believers, but the Hannity audience probably already votes in large numbers. Realistically, then, Hannity is prostituting himself for hardly any gain. I doubt his $31 million in free advertising is keeping the Clinton campaign up at nights.

From the Time Capsule: Ebola and Donald Trump

Lenny Bernstein of the Washington Post reminds us today of Donald Trump's calm and reassuring response to the Ebola crisis two years ago:

This, of course, fits with Trump's apparent panic toward bodily functions of any sort, as well as his basic callousness. Definitely the kind of guy you want in the White House.

I have my issues with Scott Winship and the way he calculates income and inflation, and in particular I continue to wrestle with his contention that PCE is generally a better way of measuring the cost of living than CPI. That said, he also has some good points to make. This week, on the 20th anniversary of the Welfare Reform Act, he's released a paper suggesting that since it was passed in 1996 child poverty has decreased dramatically—but only if you measure it right. If you measure only cash income, poverty has increased. But if you also account for welfare benefits, as you should, it's gone down. Here's his key chart:

I have a couple of issues with this. I remain skeptical of PCE for this particular kind of measurement, and I doubt that health benefits should be counted as part of a poverty measure. (Winship defends the inclusion of health benefits in an appendix.) Still, the overall picture suggests that actual poverty has been decreasing for a long time, and continued decreasing after 1996. Winship makes the same argument for deep poverty (income less than half the poverty level) and extreme poverty (living on $2 per day).

Is this due to welfare reform? I doubt it. In this and other charts, Winship shows the poverty rate declining since about 1980. I'd guess that this is the reason why:

Roughly speaking, we spend nearly a trillion dollars more on social welfare programs than we did three decades ago. That's about $8,000 per low-income person. This spending increased steadily during the 80s, steadily during the 90s, and steadily during the aughts. The amount of money we've spent dwarfs anything that welfare reform did or didn't do.

More to the point, there's simply no way that this amount of money hasn't reduced poverty. There are really only two alternatives here:

  • Social welfare spending has reduced poverty considerably.
  • Throwing even vast amounts of money at poverty doesn't work, so we might as well give up.

I wouldn't support welfare spending at all if it truly had the minuscule effect that partisan studies sometimes seem to show. I support it because I think it's done some real good. I think it's increased living standards for the poor, increased health care for the poor, and increased food security for the poor. I'd like to see us do more, but not because we haven't made a dent in poverty. I support it because I think it has made a dent.