Rebecca Berg reports on yet more possible sleaziness surrounding the Trump Foundation:

As Donald Trump began making noise about a possible bid for president in 2011, South Carolina conservative activist Oran Smith caught the celebrity businessman’s eye....Trump called Smith and invited him to meet at Trump Tower in New York....Trump was “laying the foundation for a ... campaign,” Smith thought at the time.

During their meeting in Trump’s office, they discussed Christian faith and religious liberty. Smith was struck by “a different Donald Trump than I expected.” On his way out the door, Smith asked that Trump consider donating to the Palmetto Family Council....Trump delivered. “It was a quiet donation that came with a simple cover letter,” Smith said. It read: “Great meeting with you and your wife in my office,” dated May 6, 2011. Enclosed was a check for $10,000 from the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

....From 2011 through 2014, Trump harnessed his eponymous foundation to send at least $286,000 to influential conservative or policy groups, a RealClearPolitics review of the foundation’s tax filings found. In many cases, this flow of money corresponded to prime speaking slots or endorsements that aided Trump as he sought to recast himself as a plausible Republican candidate for president.

There is nothing wrong with a presidential wannabe contributing money to groups that might help him politically. Nor is there anything wrong with a presidential PAC contributing money to potential supporters. But there is something wrong with the director of a charity contributing money to a group in order to benefit the director himself:

The donations to groups that granted Trump plum speaking slots or otherwise promoted his political aspirations also might run afoul of self-dealing rules for private foundations, which prohibit a foundation’s leadership from using donor money for its own gain.

“Getting the right to speak or access to networking events, that’s definitely starting to push into self-dealing, where you’re using the private foundation assets to benefit Mr. Trump,” said Rosemary Fei, a partner at the Adler & Colvin law firm in San Francisco, where she specializes in charity law.

Once again, we see that Donald Trump viewed his foundation as a personal piggy bank, useful mainly as a vehicle for tossing around money that might benefit himself or his businesses. The amount given to charities with the goal of simply helping other people appears to be minuscule. If there's nothing in it for Trump, he just doesn't bother with it.

Believe it or not, I try hard not to spend too much time covering every utterance from Donald Trump's pie hole. Sadly, as the chart on the right shows (data courtesy of Quiddity), I fail more often than I succeed. Today I shall fail again.

First up, John Sides informs us that, even now, an awful lot of voters seem to think that Donald Trump is a self-made man. Nearly half believe that his father was roughly working class or so, rather than the millionaire developer he actually was. Presumably they also don't know how much money Trump got from his father, either via loans, gifts, or eventually, inheritance.

The truth, of course, is that Trump's father spotted him nearly $40 million in today's dollars, and eventually Trump squandered it all:

Most of the $916 million loss that Trump claimed for 1995 is probably derived from about $900 million in bank loans taken out in the mid- to late 1980s that he had personally guaranteed and that he used to wildly overpay for hotels, airlines, yachts, barren land and other trinkets....None of these things are hallmarks of a great business operator or dealmaker.

Trump isn’t that financially sophisticated. In my interviews with him, he had trouble explaining such basic real estate concepts as “cash flow.”...His eyes tend to glaze over when complex numbers come into play. Trump’s own former accountant, Jack Mitnick, told the Times that it was always Trump’s ex-wife Ivana who asked probing questions about the couple’s taxes.

I've written about this several times before. Trump did a pretty good job building Trump Tower in 1984, but that was it. He didn't have the attention span to repeat his success, instead throwing vast amounts of money at lousy businesses that no one else wanted. When that blew up, he managed to take the smoking ruins of his casino operation and turn it into a public company, which he mismanaged to its death, paying himself $82 million along the way. Since then, he's made nearly all his money from entertainment and licensing.

Will Hillary Clinton bring up this subject in Sunday's debate? Will she wait until the very last second, as she did with Alicia Machado, guaranteeing that Trump will go ballistic and keep it in the news for the entire following week? Maybe!

David Dayen says the antitrust elements of Hillary Clinton's economic speech yesterday were "really great." Her website contains the policy specifics, so let's look:

As President, she will work to promote competition and take on abuses of market power, by taking action through government at every level, and rewarding innovation and entrepreneurship in the private sector.

Appoint strong leadership at our antitrust agencies. Strong enforcement officials...increase the resources and staffing...building up jurisprudence that supports strong enforcement.

Aggressively enforce and strengthen merger reviews as well as our antitrust laws and guidelines. Make sure that mergers and acquisitions do not excessively concentrate market power.

Prevent the inappropriate exploitation of excessive market power where it already exists. When large firms abuse their power by excluding potential rivals or stifling entrepreneurship, innovation, and free competition, those abuses undermine consumers, businesses, workers, and our economy as a whole.

Ensure post-merger retrospective reviews, and transparency. Empower the antitrust agencies to conduct post-merger monitoring...regular, thorough study and data collection on market concentration and its impact.

I'd like to hear a little more about how Clinton wants to "strengthen" antitrust laws, even though I understand that a Republican Congress will never pass anything that might truly help small businesses at the expense of big businesses. Still, I suppose there's a chance of getting something done. The increasing concentration of market power in three or four mega-corporations has hit more and more business sectors over the past couple of decades, and even conservatives ought to be getting a little worried about it. And that's to say nothing of a corporate-endorsed agenda that encourages the expansion of patent protection, regulatory barriers, and legal thickets that make it ever harder for small companies to compete. If we want America to remain a wellspring of entrepreneurism, we'd be well advised to take all of this stuff more seriously.

Oh yes, there will be liveblogging of the vice-presidential debate tonight. As usual, the show starts at 9 pm Eastern, and I'll start up a few minutes before. I expect a more sedate affair than the Clinton vs. Trump lollapaloozas, but it's still a nice little appetizer for political junkies. And you never know. Maybe Mike Pence will say that Hillary Clinton did too murder Vince Foster, and Donald Trump will prove it on Sunday. Exciting!

Good news comes in all sorts of forms. Today it comes from WikiLeaks, which has been promising for a while that it would release devastating new leaks about Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, news that Trump fans have been eagerly awaiting. Well, Der Tag arrived this morning in London, and it turns out that October Surprises aren't what they used to be:

Over the course of two hours Tuesday—with the world's media and bleary-eyed Trump die-hards across the United States tuning in—Assange and other WikiLeaks officials railed against "neo-McCarthyist hysteria," blasted the mainstream press, appealed for donations and plugged their books ("40 percent off!"). But what they didn't do was provide any new information about Clinton—or about anything else, really.

The much-vaunted news conference, as it turned out, was little more than an extended infomercial for WikiLeaks on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of its founding.

…That didn't go over well with Trump backers who had stayed up through the night, thinking they'd be watching live the unveiling of the death blow to the Clinton campaign. Assange, as it turns out, had taken a page from Trump's own playbook by drawing an audience with a tease, only to leave those tuning in feeling that they'd been tricked.

Ha ha ha. If Trump can fool the nation's media into giving him an hour of free nationwide publicity for his new hotel by promising a birther bombshell, then it's only fair that WikiLeaks can go to the same well and play publicity-mongering head games too. And who better to play head games with than Donald Trump's own supporters?1

It's remarkable the number of disparate enemies Clinton has made. There are all the usual Arkansas Project alumni here in the United States, of course. There are the Bernie die-hards. There's Vladimir Putin, who took personal exception to Clinton's suggestion that Russian elections were not entirely on the up-and-up. And there's Julian Assange, who hates Clinton because—well, it's not clear why. She's a corporatist warmonger, of course. But more particularly, she'd really like to see Assange in jail, and Assange seems to view that as unfriendly.

They say you can judge a person by the enemies she makes. On that score, I guess you'd have to say that Hillary Clinton has done pretty well for herself.

1Assange, for his part, says he's been totally misunderstood. He actually has nothing against Hillary Clinton. And he's still got some "US election-related documents" that he'll release before November 8. Stay tuned!!!

Are American schools really 26th in the world, as Donald Trump says? Bob Somerby has been on this beat for a while, and says it ain't so. So where do we rank?

Well, it depends on which test you believe. There are two big international tests of schoolkids: the TIMSS (math) / PIRLS (reading) tests, which have been in use since 1995; and the newer PISA tests, which have been in use since 2000. They give very different results. In theory, the TIMSS tests are more about straightforward problem solving, while the PISA tests are more conceptual. Whether that's really true is a matter of opinion, as is the question of which test is "better."

I won't weigh in on that. However, as Somerby points out, one of the striking things about these tests is that a small clutch of Asian countries do far better than us. In fact, they do far better than everyone, something they accomplish through a combination of cherry picking the students who take the test and a monomaniac culture of test prep. So let's take that as given, and just look at the rankings outside of the Asian tigers. Here's the raw data from the most recent tests. Each box shows the average score, the US rank, and the two countries right above and below the US.

Like me, Tom Brokaw has multiple myeloma, an incurable form of blood plasma cancer. He wrote about it in the New York Times this weekend, and today Julia Belluz writes about Brokaw:

Brokaw then describes what sounds like another full-time job: making sure thoughts about dying don’t consume what’s left of his life, and that he learns to accept his illness.

"This cancer ordeal is by far the worst, though it has redeeming qualities," he writes. Cancer has heightened his awareness about the fragility of life, brought him fellowship with other patients, and made him appreciate the "doctors and laboratory technicians who spend their lives in tedious pursuit of a cure."

....Some patients — notably Oliver Sacks, Christopher Hitchens and Robin Roberts — have gone public with the details of their cancer experience. And we have a lot to learn from them. With insights like theirs on what it means to live with — and most importantly — accept cancer as part of life, maybe some of the shame and dread will go away.

At the admittedly likely risk of sounding glib, I sometimes wonder if I'm the only person in the world who hasn't learned a deep life lesson from having cancer. I haven't battled it. I've just done the stuff my doctor has told me to do. I haven't become more aware of the fragility of life. I always knew about that. And I'd say it's not even remotely accurate to say that "some" patients have gone public with the details of their cancer experience. I'd say instead that TV and magazines are literally drenched with celebrities going public with details about their cancer experience. I have cancer, and even I get tired of the virtually endless parade of "brave" movie stars going on Access Hollywood to talk about their struggle.1

Now, I will say a couple of things. Like Brokaw, I have come to appreciate cancer researchers even more. They're the ones who are truly fighting. And I'd also say that it's made me appreciate my friends and family more than before, simply because of all the help and support they've provided.

It's also true that everyone reacts to cancer differently. Some people like to talk about it a lot. Some people benefit from a support group. Some people are scared to death. Some people do indeed have life-changing insights. I'm in favor of everyone responding to cancer in whatever way makes them feel better.

Then again, there are those of us who simply have cancer and take our meds and hope for the best. Just like I take my blood pressure meds and hope I don't get a heart attack. I don't mean that it's not a big deal—it is, and I'm not trying to be flip about it—but I wonder how many cancer patients are like me? I'm part of the segment that thinks it's a bad experience, endures the chemo meds with a grimace, and hopes it's curable—but otherwise has no real epiphanies or feels the need to talk endlessly about it.2 Are we a majority? More?

1If I have a pet peeve, this is it. There's nothing brave about going through an unpleasant experience. Nor in talking about it, especially on the cover of People. I'd really like to do away with this word for anyone over the age of ten.

2Actually, I don't mind talking about it at all. The reason I generally don't is because it makes other people uncomfortable. Perhaps I'm just more accepting of death than most people? I'm not sure.

Tim Lee has become bearish on the future of disruptive technological change:

“Who knows? But it will come!” has become the de facto rallying cry for a lot of recent Silicon Valley innovations with more hype than obvious applications....But it-will-come-ism has fallen flat in recent years, and I think it’s going to continue failing in the years to come. There are a number of industries — with health care and education being the most important — where there’s an inherent limit on how much value information technology can add. Because in these industries, the main thing you’re buying is relationships to other human beings, and those can’t be automated.

None of us can really adduce much evidence for our various points of view in this debate, but that's never stopped anyone before. So I'll draw a line in the sand and say that Lee is completely, totally, devastatingly wrong.

He may be right over the next decade. Maybe even the next two decades. But that's about it. We will soon discover that not only can relationships be automated,1 many humans will come to prefer silicon service providers to the carbon variety. That's especially true in areas like health care and education, where subject matter knowledge is critically important.

Take education first. Sure, we all have fond memories of our favorite teachers. And I suspect that classrooms may continue to exist for quite a while because humans do enjoy socializing with other humans. But your basic robot teacher has a whole lot of advantages over the meat variety. Endless patience. The ability to personalize teaching for every single student. 24/7 availability. Accurate, broad-based subject matter knowledge at every possible level. I'm sorry, Mom, but the robots will have you beat.2

And then there's health care, where the days of the beloved small-town doctor have been long gone for decades. It's already the case that lots of people—maybe even a majority—don't have much of a personal relationship with their doctor even now, and this will probably just get worse over time. So which would you prefer? A human doctor who can chat about the weather but probably doesn't because she's allocated ten minutes to your office visit and needs to get down to business right away? Or a silicon doctor who knows more than the human, can spend more time with you than the human, and never makes mistakes? I'll take the robot, thanks.

But wait. Maybe this is all true, but won't we miss the warmth of human contact? I doubt it. We'll still have plenty of human contact, after all. More generally, there's a widespread belief that AI and robotics in general will never be able to simulate sociableness. I think this is due to a vast overestimate of how good humans are at distinguishing real from fake. People are taken in by fakes all the time, and it really doesn't take much. An easy manner, a willingness to feign interest, and some sympathy for your complaints will do it most of the time. Even crude AI can sometimes pull off this act, and in a decade or two it will be pretty common. People will like their robots, just the way they like their cars and they like Siri.

In the end, robots will have all the obvious advantages of being robots and they'll convincingly pretend to be warm and caring. But don't feel bad, all you doctors and teachers. They'll probably take over blogging before they take over your jobs.

1Don't believe me? Have you ever watched a season of The Bachelor?

2Just kidding! Ha ha. Nobody will ever teach fourth grade the way you did, Mom. Seriously, um....oh man, I'm in trouble now.

It's a brand new week, and Donald Trump is taking it on the chin over his taxes. So how does he respond? Lamely.

First up, we have a new RNC video—shot in grainy black-and white, natch—claiming that Tim Kaine defended horrible BLACK murderers1 back when he was a defense attorney fresh out of law school. Devastating! Or it might be if every political opponent in Kaine's career hadn't tried the same attack. Kaine's answer has always been the same: as a devout Catholic, he's categorically opposed to the death penalty, and he's willing to defend even the worst people if it means keeping them off death row. So far he's batting a thousand with this defense.

Next up, the Drudge Report is bringing up possibly the most ancient attack against Bill Clinton of all time: that he's the father of a mixed-race child born to a BLACK prostitute he frequented in his Little Rock Days. This story has been part of the Clinton fever swamps for something like 30 years, and even people who don't like Bill have never given it the time of day. I understand why Drudge is trafficking in this sort of nostalgia—the 90s were good to Matt Drudge—but seriously? Bill Clinton's "love child" is the best they've got?

Any day now, some Trump surrogate somewhere is going to pop up with BRAND NEW EVIDENCE that Bill Clinton ran coke out of Mena airport. I can't wait. Is this seriously Trump's campaign strategy?

1Actually, most of them weren't black. But you could be forgiven for not noticing given the way the ad is shot and the fact that the RNC itself is promoting the video as "Willie Horton style."

Veronique de Rugy writes about the recently passed Continuing Resolution that kept the government from shutting down:

I for one am relieved that they didn’t use the CR as a way to restore the full-lending authority of the crony Export Import Bank and I commend the senate for it....[But] this CR funds the government only until December 9, which means that Congress will once again have to consider a massive and unaccountable 2017 spending bill during a lame-duck session. The chance of lawmakers using this opportunity to load the bill with pork projects, Ex-Im’s full revival, and other special-interest significant.

This is just an idle question, but how is it that the Export Import Bank became such a tea party hot button? I don't personally care about it too much one way or the other, but I understand why a lot of people are opposed to it. Still, it's a relatively small program, and its net cost to taxpayers is zero or close to it. Even if it is a congressional piggy bank, it hardly seems worth getting in a lather about.

So how did it become such a bête noire for the right? Does anyone know if there's an interesting backstory here?