Here's what Howard Dean tweeted during Monday's debate:

At the time, I paid no attention to this. I figured it was just standard Twitter snark. But, um, apparently not:

This is sure a weird campaign, isn't it? I guess Dean has decided to give Trump a taste of his own medicine. The real source of Trump's sniffles, of course, is that he was suffering from allergies or a cold or something like that, but Trump steadfastly refuses to admit this because it would make him look weak. So Dean has leaped into the vacuum to lob a wild accusation at Trump and force him to respond. This is Trump 101, and I can only assume Dean is having himself a good old time with this.

Needless to say, I strongly disapprove. Dean should be ashamed of himself. Especially when he's dealing with a high-road kind of guy like Donald Trump. Here is Eric Trump on his father's principled unwillingness to bring up Bill Clinton's affairs at the end of the debate:

That was a big moment for me and probably will actually become, my life and this campaign, and probably will be something I’ll always remember. I mean, he really took the high ground where he had the opportunity to go very, very low. And I’m proud of him for doing that. I mean, I’m really proud of him for doing that. And I think people recognize that. I mean, there are a lot of people who came up to me, including many in the media, who said listen, he could’ve just crushed her on that last question. And he would’ve probably hurt a family if he did.

Truly, Donald Trump is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.

Over at 538, Tim Mullaney picks up on a topic I've obsessed about in the past: When you remove politics from the equation, most people seem pretty cheery about the state of the economy. Here's the latest:

Bill Fox sells cars....Like other car dealers, Fox is seeing near-record sales: Somehow, he said, consumers don’t seem as worried about the economy as the pundits say they are. “We’re not seeing [anger] at all,” said Fox, a partner in Auburn-based Fox Dealerships. “The way I account for it is, the public sees economic indicators that are OK, their job’s not threatened, and they may be afraid of the future, but the monthly [car] payment is good.”

....Even as Americans tell political pollsters that they are worried about the economy, they tell a different story in a separate set of surveys that are used by economists and investors to forecast consumer spending behavior. On Tuesday, the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index, hit a nine-year high....Even people with only a high-school education — whose economic woes are often cited in media reports explaining Trump’s rise — are about as confident today as they were before the recession began, according to the Michigan survey.

Consumer confidence is now as high as it was throughout the boom years of the aughts, which was good enough to keep Republicans in power until scandals overtook them in 2006 and the economy collapsed in 2008.

No politician—not even most Democrats—wants to say publicly that the economy is in pretty good shape. Why? Because they don't want to appear to be out of touch. After all, even in a good economy, there are still plenty of people who are hurting. But practically every bit of evidence suggests not only that the economy is humming along pretty well, but that voters know it. Donald Trump is doing his best to convince everyone that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but if the September consumer confidence numbers are anything to go by, most of the American public isn't buying it.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the FBI is increasingly convinced that the recent hacks of the DNC and other organizations are being led by Russia:

A fuller picture of the operation has come into focus in the past several weeks. U.S. officials believe that at least two hacking groups with ties to the Russian government, known as Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear, are involved in the escalating data-theft efforts, according to people briefed on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe of the cyberattacks.

Following successful breaches, the stolen data are apparently transferred to three different websites for publication, these people say. The websites—WikiLeaks, and a blog run by Guccifer 2.0—have posted batches of stolen data at least 42 times from April to last week.

WikiLeaks has published U.S. secrets for years but has recently taken an overtly adversarial tone toward Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Cybersecurity experts believe that and Guccifer 2.0 often work together and have direct ties to Russian hackers.

Most of these leaks have been designed to hurt Hillary Clinton, who Vladimir Putin apparently hates. Meanwhile, Trump advisor Carter Page has left the Trump campaign over accusations that he's a little too chummy with the folks in Russia responsible for all this hacking. Page says the whole thing is ridiculous, but apparently his erstwhile friends in Trumpland are throwing him under the bus anyway:

The Trump campaign has been distancing itself from Page. Although Page was one of Trump’s originally announced foreign policy advisers, campaign manager KellyAnne Conway told CNN on Sunday that Page is not really involved at with the campaign at this point.

I have not spoken with him at all, in fact, meaning he’s not part of our national security or foreign policy briefings that we do now at all, certainly not since I have become campaign manager,” she said....Other Trump campaign sources told me that Page was never really part of Trump’s inner circle....Page has never met with Trump one on one and hasn’t been deeply involved in Trump foreign policy speeches or events, they said.

So...he was just some guy whose name they used so they'd look like they had some advisors. Apparently they'd rather publicly fess up to lying about their campaign announcements than take a chance that Page might become a liability. What nice folks.

Oh man, this is rich. Here is wingnut Rep. Jeb Hensarling griping about the fact that the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau didn't find out about the Well Fargo scandal sooner:

“Why does it take the L.A. Times to break this story, when we’re paying federal investigators to investigate?” Hensarling recently told Fox Business Network.

“Where was the CFPB? Why did they come in so late to the game?” he continued. “They have immense powers and this is their job to enforce these basic consumer laws and it appears they were asleep at the switch.” Hensarling also has criticized regulators for the $185-million settlement with the bank, which allowed Wells Fargo to avoid admitting any wrongdoing.

If Hensarling had his way, the CFPB would be eliminated and Wells Fargo might well have escaped from the whole affair unscathed. Now he's pretending that he thinks the CFPB is too weak. Sen. Sherrod Brown has it right:

“Hensarling reminds me of the kid who kills his parents and then wants to collect orphan benefits,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), one of the CFPB’s biggest backers. “He’s tried to underfund it. He’s tried to undercut. He’s done all he could to block bank regulations.”

Make up your mind, Jeb. Do you want the CFPB to more powerful or less powerful? You can only have it one way.

Where the Wars Are

This is apropos of nothing in particular. It's just some raw data I happened to come across, so I thought I'd share.

Stop-and-frisk came up in last night's debate:

TRUMP: Now, whether or not in a place like Chicago you do stop and frisk, which worked very well, Mayor Giuliani is here, worked very well in New York. It brought the crime rate way down.

....HOLT: I do want to follow up. Stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York, because it largely singled out black and Hispanic young men.

TRUMP: No, you're wrong. It went before a judge, who was a very against-police judge. It was taken away from her. And our mayor, our new mayor, refused to go forward with the case. They would have won an appeal. If you look at it, throughout the country, there are many places where it's allowed.

Trump said four things here, and typically for him, he was effectively wrong about all four.

First off, he implied that Rudy Giuliani brought stop-and-frisk to New York City. He didn't. As you can see in the chart on the right, the stop-and-frisk rate didn't start rising until 2002, when Michael Bloomberg was mayor and Ray Kelly was police commissioner.

Second, he said it brought the crime rate "way down." Again, the chart on the right doesn't bear this out. Crime rates were already on a steady, long-term downward trend by 2002, and the increase in stop-and-frisk doesn't seem to have changed that much. A more detailed analysis concluded that stop-and-frisk actually did have a modest effect, "but only the increase in stops made based on probable cause indicators of criminal behaviors were associated with crime reductions." Save that thought, and we'll come back to it later.

Third, New York's version of stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional. Would that ruling have survived on appeal? Probably, but nobody knows, certainly not Donald Trump.

And fourth, there are, in fact, many places where stop-and-frisk is allowed. In fact, it's allowed everywhere in the country. So why do I count Trump as being wrong about this?

Simple: Stop-and-frisk has been a standard police procedure for decades, but the Supreme Court ruled in 1968 that it's only legal if it's based on a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The problem in New York City is that stop-and-frisk became a routine tool used even when there was essentially no justification at all. This is the stop-and-frisk policy that Trump was talking about, and it's decidedly not used in "many places." It was unique to New York City.

This is why the study I linked above is important. It concluded that stop-and-search based on probable cause did help reduce crime. But the New York City version didn't. And it did target blacks and Latinos at much higher rates than whites, even after you account for disparate crime rates. So not only was it unconstitutional, but it didn't work either. On multiple levels, New York City is better off returning to the legal version.

Speaking of Hillary Clinton's emails, we learned something interesting today. But first, here's an excerpt from the FBI report that was released last month. Apologies for the length, but it's important that you see the whole thing so you know I haven't left out any relevant parts:

Here's the full timeline in a nutshell:

December 2014: After turning over Clinton's work emails to the State Department, Clinton's staff instructed Platte River Networks to delete her old email files, which included all her private emails. The tech assigned to this task forgot to do it.

March 9, 2015: Clinton's staff notifies PRN that Congress has issued a preservation order for Clinton's emails.

March 25: Clinton's staff has a conference call with PRN.

March 25-31: The tech has a "holy shit" moment and remembers he never deleted the old archives. So he does. Both Clinton and Cheryl Mills say they were unaware of these deletions.

This timeline is a bit of a Rorschach test. If you already think Hillary Clinton is a liar and a crook, your reaction is: Give me a break. They just happened to have a conference call on March 25 and the tech just happened to delete the archives a few days later? But the Clinton gang says they never told him to do this? Spare me.

However, if you're sympathetic to Clinton, this all seems pretty unremarkable. Her staff had ordered the archives deleted in 2014, long before any subpoenas were issued, and it was only because of the tech's forgetfulness that they were still around in March. The tech was telling the truth when he said that no one told him to delete the archives in March. The conference call just jogged his memory. And Clinton and Mills really didn't have any idea what was going on. After all, it would have been wildly dangerous to explicitly tell PRN on a conference call to delete archives that were under a legal preservation order.

So which is it? The answer is that we don't know. You can read this timeline however you want. Today, however, we got this:

FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday his investigators looked very intently at whether there was obstruction of justice in the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email account, but concluded they could not prove a criminal case against anyone.

"We looked at it very hard to see if there was criminal obstruction of justice," Comey said at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, under questioning by Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)

"We looked at it very hard. We could not make an obstruction case against any of the subjects we looked at," Comey said. He did not identify those whose conduct the FBI investigated for potential obstruction.

What Comey is saying is that the FBI put a lot of effort into discovering the truth about what happened in March, including grants of immunity to several people so they could tell the truth without fear of prosecution. But they came up empty. Despite their best efforts, it appears that Clinton's staff did nothing wrong. The PRN tech just had a memory lapse about the deletion order and then did a dumb thing when he remembered it.

Hillary Clinton made a mistake when she decided to use a single email account on a personal server while she was Secretary of State. But it was just a mistake, not a criminal conspiracy. Once again, there's no there there.

I read quite a few complaints last night about Lester Holt's choice of debate topics. Liberals wanted to know why climate change didn't come up. Conservatives thought there should have been a question about abortion. This is run-of-the-mill stuff, since not everything can possibly get covered in a 90-minute show. But the biggest conservative complaint was that Holt didn't ask Hillary Clinton about her emails or the Clinton Foundation. Except that he did:

HOLT: He also raised the issue of your e-mails. Do you want to respond to that?

CLINTON: I do. You know, I made a mistake using a private e- mail.

TRUMP: That's for sure.

CLINTON: And if I had to do it over again, I would, obviously, do it differently. But I'm not going to make any excuses. It was a mistake, and I take responsibility for that.

HOLT: Mr. Trump?

TRUMP: That was more than a mistake. That was done purposely. OK? That was not a mistake. That was done purposely. When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the Fifth so they're not prosecuted, when you have the man that set up the illegal server taking the Fifth, I think it's disgraceful. And believe me, this country thinks it's — really thinks it's disgraceful, also.

And that was it. Trump had the opportunity to go after Clinton's emails at length if he wanted to, but he didn't. Why? Because he was steamed about Clinton's suggestion that he might not be as rich as he says. So he ditched the email stuff and instead spend a couple of minutes defending the greatness of his income, his company, his debts, his bankers, his buildings—and then sort of forgot what he was talking about and wandered off into a riff about how terrible our infrastructure is.

In other words, typical Trump. But there's more to this. I think Clinton owes the press some thanks for going so far overboard on the emails and the Clinton Foundation over the past year. Here's what happened earlier this month:

First, the FBI released its report on Clinton's emails. It exonerated her almost completely, but a few days later Matt Lauer obliviously spent a full third of his interview with Clinton on the emails anyway. Lauer was widely pilloried for this. Two days later the Washington Post—which had reported on the emails as assiduously as anyone—finally admitted that the email story was "out of control."

On the Clinton Foundation front, August and September saw a rash of stories about specific people and programs associated with the foundation. They all "raised questions" or "cast a shadow" over Clinton's campaign, but none of them uncovered anything even close to wrongdoing. By mid-September, this had become almost a running joke.

In both cases, the mountain of reporting on these topics finally crumbled under its own weight. They had both been investigated endlessly, and in the end, had uncovered nothing aside from a few minor misdemeanors. It finally became clear that reporters were chasing after a chimera, and the bubble burst. It was time to move on.

That's probably one reason that Holt didn't spend any time on either the emails or the foundation. I'm sure they'll come up in one of the future debates, but they've been largely defanged. There's just nothing much there anymore.

If there were a contest for weirdest Trumpism last night—well, I'm not sure I could pick a winner. But on the nerd front, this one just confused me completely:

We have to renegotiate our trade deals. And, Lester, they're taking our jobs, they're giving incentives, they're doing things that, frankly, we don't do.

Let me give you the example of Mexico. They have a VAT tax. We're on a different system. When we sell into Mexico, there's a tax. When they sell in — automatic, 16 percent, approximately. When they sell into us, there's no tax. It's a defective agreement. It's been defective for a long time, many years, but the politicians haven't done anything about it.

In real time I wondered what the hell this was all about, but the debate moved on and I didn't have time to ponder it. Aside from being completely wrong, I wondered where it came from. Trump has never mentioned VATs before, has he?

Well, it turns out that yesterday an economist at UC Irvine (yay Anteaters!) co-authored a long report claiming that Trump's full economic plan would hypercharge growth and make us all rich etc. etc. Jordan Weissmann dismantles the report here, and mentions that it takes aim at VAT taxes around the world:

Here's how it works: When a company in Germany makes goods to sell at home, it has to pay the VAT. But if it makes them to sell in the United States, it doesn't—the tax gets waived at the border....Meanwhile, if an American company makes widgets to sell in Germany, it does have to pay the VAT.

In short, everybody has to pay Germany's VAT when they're selling goods in Germany. Nobody has to pay Germany's VAT when they're selling goods outside of Germany....However, Navarro and Ross say border adjustability turns the VAT into an “implicit export subsidy” for foreign companies and an “implicit tariff” on U.S. exporters.

....This is just ... wrong. Dead wrong. It's true that American car companies, to take just one example, have to pay a German VAT when they sell sedans to Berlin or Düsseldorf. But you know who also has to pay that tax? BMW and Volkswagen. Border adjustability just puts everybody on equal footing. Waiving the VAT on exports does the same thing. If German companies had to pay the VAT on cars they were sending to the U.S., they'd be at a huge disadvantage compared to their American rivals, who wouldn't face a domestic VAT. Germany would essentially be suppressing its own exports.

So that's where it came from. Somebody at Trump HQ read the report, mentioned the VAT part to Trump, and Trump then burbled about it on stage last night. It's all gibberish, but oddly enough, you can't really blame Trump for this one. After all, a guy with a PhD in economics fed this stuff to him. It's such a mind-boggling misstatement of how VATs work that I now want to know why the guy with the PhD was willing to embarrass himself with this stuff. Trump, of course, just lapped it up.

Anyway, that's the story of the VAT. Don't you feel smarter now?

Donald Trump Is a Pig

So it turns out that Donald Trump's big attack that he delicately held back on last night was...Bill Clinton's affairs. Devastating! That bit of non-news would have turned things around, I'm sure. So why did he change his mind? "I didn't feel comfortable doing it with Chelsea in the room," he said this morning.  What a sensitive guy.

In related news, Hillary Clinton really got under Trump's skin last night. "He loves beauty contests," she said, "supporting them and hanging around them. And he called this woman 'Miss Piggy.' Then he called her 'Miss Housekeeping,' because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name."

"Where did you find this? Where did you find this?" Trump demanded. Today he couldn't stop himself from attacking back:

During an interview on Fox News on Tuesday morning, Trump brought up Machado on his own and launched into an attack on her credibility, saying that she had "attitude" and was a "real problem" for Miss Universe officials. "She was the worst we ever had. The worst. The absolute worst. She was impossible," Trump said. "... She was the winner, and she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem. We had a real problem."

What a pig.