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.

Donald Trump stood in front of a pile of scrap metal yesterday in Pittsburgh and blasted both NAFTA and the accession of China into the World Trade Organization. He was positively poetic about how his trade policies would affect the steel industry:

A Trump Administration will also ensure that we start using American steel for American infrastructure.

Just like the American steel from Pennsylvania that built the Empire State building.

It will be American steel that will fortify America's crumbling bridges.

It will be American steel that sends our skyscrapers soaring into the sky.

It will be American steel that rebuilds our inner cities.

There's no question that the American steel industry has suffered over the past three decades, thanks to cheap steel imports from other countries. But this began in the 1980s and had almost nothing to do with either NAFTA or China. Take a look:

Do you see a sudden slump in US steel production after NAFTA passed? Or after China entered the WTO? Nope. Other countries simply produced steel more cheaply than we did. It started with Japan and South Korea in the '80s and later migrated to other countries not because of trade agreements, but because Japan and South Korea got too expensive. And it's not as if no one noticed this was happening. Ronald Reagan tried tariffs on steel and they didn't work. George H.W. Bush tried tariffs again. They didn't work. George W. Bush tried tariffs a third time. No dice.

For all his bluster, when it came time for Trump to lay out his plan to "bring back our jobs," it was surprisingly lame. It was seven points long but basically amounted to withdrawing from the TPP and getting tough on trade cheaters. This would accomplish next to nothing. TPP's effect is small to begin with, and we're already pretty aggressive about going after trade violations.

The bottom line is simple: If we want access to markets overseas, we have to give them access to our markets. Donald Trump can claim he wants to bring back the jobs we've lost to overseas competition, but he'd have to back that up by essentially promising to withdraw completely from NAFTA and the WTO—and then promising to build a huge tariff wall around the entire country. He's not willing to do that because even he knows it would trash the US economy. So instead he blusters and proposes a toothless plan. Sad.

NBC News reports that Donald Trump spent $0 on ads in swing states in June:

Hillary Clinton and her allies continue to dominate the presidential battleground-state airwaves, outspending Donald Trump and pro-Trump groups this month, $26 million to $0, according to ad-spending data from SMG Delta.

For the week, it's $7.5 million to $0 in the eight battlegrounds of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia. And when you add future ad reservations, it's $140 million to $0.

I'm not sure what to think of this. Is it comforting because it shows just how incompetent the Trump campaign is? Or is it scary because Trump is still only a few points behind even though he's doing no conventional campaigning at all?

Professor Trump delivered a lecture on the evils of international trade today. Here's a snippet:

Massive trade deficits subtract directly from our Gross Domestic Product. From 1947 to 2001 — a span of over five decades — our inflation-adjusted gross domestic product grew at a rate of 3.5%. However, since 2002 — the year after we fully opened our markets to Chinese imports — that GDP growth rate has been cut almost in half.

What does this mean for Americans? For every one percent of GDP growth we fail to generate in any given year, we also fail to create over one million jobs. America's "job creation deficit" due to slower growth since 2002 is well over 20 million jobs — and that's just about the number of jobs our country needs right now to put America back to work at decent wages.

There are two interesting things about this. First, Trump was reading off a teleprompter, and you can tell. The real Donald Trump would have ranted about the real unemployment rate being 40 percent and 50 million people being out of work or something. Who knows? But the carefully handled Donald Trump produces a well-modulated stream of numbers that actually sounds plausible.

And yet—even with someone else carefully vetting the numbers, they still don't come close to making sense. Consider: the U6 unemployment rate right now is 9.7 percent. This represents every single human being in the country who wants a job but can't get one, or who wants a full-time job but can only get part-time work. Even if they're discouraged and not currently looking for work, they're counted.

The U6 series only goes back to 1994, but a good guess is that the lowest it's been in all of postwar history is about 6.5 percent. We'd hit that mark if 5 million more people were working. If you do the calculation based on the current output gap instead of the U6 rate, you come up with roughly the same number.

In other words, 5 million is the absolute max, even in theory. If that many more people had jobs, the economy would be roaring along at a 1960s boom level. So where does 20 million come from? If it were just Trump blathering away, the question wouldn't be worth asking. But this supposedly came from someone who actually thought about these numbers. And they're still off by a factor of at least four. I sure hope Trump doesn't run his business with financial estimates like this.