For some reason I got curious about the whole Trump University thing this afternoon, so I started googling sort of randomly to learn more about it. I came across several interesting items that seemed worth sharing, but I don't really have any special narrative to put together about them. Instead, here's a semi-random three-part Trump U dump. Be sure not to miss footnote 2!

1. The Evolution of Trump's Racist BS Against Judge Curiel

A few days ago the whole world suddenly went ballistic because Donald Trump went after the judge in the Trump U case. But this is nothing new. Three months ago he railed against judge Gonzalo Curiel at a rally in Bentonville, Arkansas: "We have a very hostile judge....tremendous hostility, beyond belief. I believe he happens to be Spanish, which is fine, he's Hispanic, which is fine....but we have a judge who's very hostile." The next day he told Fox News Sunday: "I think it has to do perhaps with the fact that I'm very, very strong on the border, very, very strong at the border, and he has been extremely hostile to me."

Curiel has since gone from Spanish to Mexican to "of Mexican heritage," but Trump has basically been peddling this racist BS for months. So why is it that no one seemed to care much about it back in February, when it might have mattered?

2. The 98 Percent Satisfaction Rate

Back in November Steven Brill wrote a really good piece about Trump U for Time. If you have any interest in this case, you should put aside a few minutes to read it.

One of my favorite bits is about Trump's most treasured defense, which is that all the suits against him are the work of a tiny number of malcontents. "Listen to me," he said in February, "98 percent of the people that took the courses, 98 percent approved the courses, they thought they were terrific." Trump has a whole website devoted to this, Here is Brill:

Trump’s director of operations Mark Covais...declared that the satisfaction percentages were taken from “about 10,000” surveys of Trump University customers. Yet in the same affidavit Covais said that there were 7,611 tickets sold to Trump University programs....How could Trump have 10,000 “rave” surveys from paying customers if there were only 7,611 paying customers?

....The more apparent inconsistency is that Covais...declared that the company had issued 2,144 refunds to 6,698 attendees of the $1,495 three-day program, or 32%. That a third of the customers demanded refunds is hard to reconcile with a claimed 98% satisfaction rate....Similarly, the refund rate for the $34,995 program, which according to the lawsuits was tougher on giving money back, was 16%. If at least 31% of one group and 16% of the other were so instantly dissatisfied that they immediately demanded refunds, how could 98% have been satisfied?

How indeed? Perhaps it's just the usual Trump "puffery," his second-favorite defense for the lies he told about Trump U?

3. Is Judge Curiel Biased Against Trump?

I Am Not A Lawyer™—about which more later—but I was still curious about whether Judge Curiel has, in fact, ruled against Trump overwhelmingly. So I googled a bit until I got bored. Here are the rulings I could find:

March 1, 2014: After years of legal maneuvering, Curiel allowed two cases against Trump to go forward. "Curiel certified one case, Tarla Makaeff vs. Trump University, as a class-action in California, Florida, and New York. The plaintiffs had hoped it would get certified in all 50 states. Curiel also narrowed down the pursuable actions from 14 to 5. In a second related case, Art Cohen vs. Donald J. Trump, Curiel denied Trump's motion to dismiss the case." I'd score that as two anti-Trump rulings (both cases were allowed to move forward) and one pro-Trump ruling (the class-action was limited to three states).

October 29, 2014: Curiel certified Cohen's suit as a class action. That's one anti-Trump ruling.

April 20, 2015: Trump countersued the plaintiff in one of the cases, Tarla Makaeff, and she eventually won a motion to dismiss Trump's suit as a nuisance.1 She asked for $1.3 million in costs, and the case was sent to Curiel for resolution. "Curiel found the rate requests for associates and partners reasonable, but denied Makaeff's request for staff attorney and paralegal fees....Curiel scaled back the number of hours expended on most of the plaintiffs' 25 proceedings by 20 percent, others by 50 percent and some he declined entirely, reducing the fees award by $542,920.85 to $790,083.40." That sounds fairly pro-Trump.

July 3, 2015: Curiel ruled that Trump would have to testify about his net worth: "Publicly available figures of Trump's wealth have been the subject of wild speculation and range anywhere from $4 to $9 billion," Curiel ruled. "Simply stated, plaintiffs are entitled to answers made under penalty of perjury." I think we can safely call that one anti-Trump.2

November 18, 2015:  Trump lost a bid for summary judgment throwing out the suits. However, Curiel ruled in his favor against an injunction that would have prohibited further false advertising. That's basically one ruling against Trump and one for him.

March 22, 2016: Curiel allowed Makaeff to withdraw as a lead defendant in her case. He dismissed Makaeff's claims and denied Makaeff's request to bar Trump from any further litigation he may file against her. He allowed the defense to re-depose the other main plaintiff, Sonny Low, and ruled that Trump would "likely be entitled to some award of fees and costs." That's one ruling against Trump and four in favor.

April 26, 2016: Curiel issued an order setting a July 18 hearing on a motion by Trump's lawyers to toss out the Cohen v. Trump case. "The judge also plans to take up other motions, including one asking that the case be stripped of its class-action status." This seems neither pro nor anti-Trump.

May 6, 2016: Curiel set a November 28 date for one of the suits. "[Trump's lawyer] asked for a trial after Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, but the judge raised concerns about distractions if Trump wins the election."

May 27, 2016: Curiel ruled in favor of a Washington Post motion to unseal several exhibits in the Trump U lawsuits. This is the ruling that ignited Trump's most recent hailstorm of attacks on Curiel.

I dunno. Does this pattern show any kind of bias for or against Trump? Trump seems thoroughly convinced that the whole case against Trump U should have been tossed out on summary judgment instantly, and the fact that Curiel didn't do that means he's "tremendously hostile." Of course, that's Trump's view of anyone who does something Trump doesn't like. But summary judgment was never very likely in these cases, and aside from that Curiel seems to have ruled for and against Trump fairly evenly. Hell, even Trump's own lawyer blew off Trump's rantings: "He's got very strong views about everything and he expressed his own views," he said, before acknowledging that, no, he didn't plan to ask Curiel to recuse himself.

What's more, a local TV station interviewed a San Diego lawyer who pointed out the obvious: "Judge Curiel gave lots of his rulings before Trump made those comments about the border and illegal immigration." And: "NBC 7 checked federal court records and confirmed Von Helms' claim." Curiel has been on these Trump U cases off and on since 2010, and obviously Trump's views on a border wall couldn't have influenced him before June of last year.

Now, I realize this is all sort of pointless. I think we all know perfectly well that Curiel is just an ordinary judge, and Trump is ranting against him because that's what Trump does whenever something doesn't go his way. He whines. Endlessly. Still, I'm kind of curious. It would be interesting if some kind of qualified lawyer type went through the records of these trials and reported back on whether Curiel seems to be conducting things fairly. Maybe he's not! Maybe he really does hate Trump. Unfortunately, I suppose that would be a lot of work. Oh well.

1But only after an appeals court overruled District Judge Irma Gonzalez, who had ruled in Trump's favor. Another Hispano-Mexican judge!

2Wait. What? Trump was required to testify under penalty of perjury about his true net worth? Yes indeed. And I believe he's already given that deposition. Oddly, though, he's never mentioned that, and hasn't brought it up in any of his recent ravings either. I imagine there's a good reason for that: If this becomes common knowledge, someone will ask him what number he provided under oath. Does he really have any good excuse not to share that with us?

Health Update

My M-protein level is basically the same as last month, and my oncologist thinks things have probably stabilized. This is both good and bad news: Stable is obviously good, but on the other hand, we'd have preferred things to stabilize at around zero, not 0.33.

Still, he's fairly satisfied since everything else is in its normal range. Satisfied enough that we're tentatively deep-sixing the Evil Dex, anyway. Hooray! Hopefully this means that my sleep will return to normal and I might be able to lose some of the weight I've put on since I started taking it. We'll see.

In case you're curious, I feel fine these days. In fact, ironically enough, my health is as good as it's been in years if you don't count the multiple myeloma. That's a big "if," of course, but I'll take what I can get. And if I stay off the dex for good, I'll feel even better.

Friday Cat Blogging - 3 June 2016

Here are four common pet names for Hilbert and Hopper in our household:

  1. Chickie
  2. My little kittenball
  3. Pumpkin
  4. Sweetie pie

Can you guess which ones are mine and which ones are Marian's? In the meantime, enjoy this picture of Hilbert in jail. This cage is normally used to keep Hilbert out of the plants in the background, and when it was moved for maintenance he wanted in—plants or no plants. However, he earned parole for good behavior very quickly. Lucky cat.

For many years now, the Republican Party has relied on the votes of white men to win the presidency. But that's gotten harder and harder. As Lindsey Graham famously put it four years ago, "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."

Graham was right: there's only just so much you can do with this demographic. In 1980 Ronald Reagan pulled white evangelicals and social conservatives away from the Democratic Party. That got the ball rolling. George Bush seized on Willie Horton in 1988. That helped things along. In the 90s, Newt Gingrich teamed up with Rush Limbaugh, the champion of the angry white guy. That helped some more. A decade later Karl Rove went off on a dogged search for the final scraps of the evangelical vote. That helped—but only by a percentage point or two. The pickings were getting slim. Finally, with nothing more available to them, a few years ago the Republican Party embarked on a strategy to suppress the non-white vote via voter ID laws. That was a desperate ploy, and it eked out only a slight advantage. For all practical purposes, by 2012 they seemed to be out of ideas. What more could they do?

At the time, I figured they were at the end of their rope. There are only so many angry white guys out there, and only so many that you can get out to vote. The GOP had squeezed the onion dry, and there wasn't anything left to do.

But I was wrong. There was one more last-gasp possibility that I hadn't seriously considered: nominate a guy willing to explicitly base his campaign on racism and xenophobia. No more dog whistles. No subtlety. No "self-deportation" or "Southern heritage." No winking and nudging as talk radio and Fox News did the dirty work. This was, literally, the only option left to them.

And so we got Donald Trump. It makes sense, but most of us simply didn't think Republicans would be willing to go quite this far. We were wrong. The embarrassing part of this for me is that I wrote about this very thing four years ago in Democracy Journal:

Here are six trends that I think are likely to continue for the next dozen years and beyond....Trend #5: The Republican Party will continue to become ever more dependent on the white vote, while the Democratic Party will depend ever more on minorities.

....So what does this all mean? With the usual caveats taken—world events can change things, anything can happen, etc.—here are some guesses. One: Certain aspects of the culture wars will heat up. In particular, thanks to the increasingly polarized demographics of the two main political parties, fights over immigration and race may well be even more acrimonious than they are today.

I guess I should have listened to myself.

Hillary Clinton gave a "big" foreign policy speech yesterday, but it wasn't really a foreign policy speech. That is, its purpose wasn't to spell out a "Hillary Doctrine" or reprise her well-known positions on various global issues. Its purpose was to clearly expose Donald Trump as the ignorant cretin he is. And it did!

He is not just unprepared — he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility. [Applause] This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes — because it’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.

....He has said that he would order our military to carry out torture and the murder of civilians who are related to suspected terrorists — even though those are war crimes. He says he doesn’t have to listen to our generals or our admirals, our ambassadors and other high officials, because he has — quote — “a very good brain.” [Laughter] He also said, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.” You know what? I don’t believe him.

....It’s no small thing when he suggests that America should withdraw our military support for Japan, encourage them to get nuclear weapons, and said this about a war between Japan and North Korea — and I quote — “If they do, they do. Good luck, enjoy yourself, folks.” I wonder if he even realizes he’s talking about nuclear war?

....And I have to say, I don’t understand Donald’s bizarre fascination with dictators and strongmen who have no love for America. He praised China for the Tiananmen Square massacre; he said it showed strength. He said, “You’ve got to give Kim Jong Un credit” for taking over North Korea — something he did by murdering everyone he saw as a threat, including his own uncle, which Donald described gleefully, like he was recapping an action movie. And he said if he were grading Vladimir Putin as a leader, he’d give him an A.

Now, I’ll leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants. [Applause] I just wonder how anyone could be so wrong about who America’s real friends are. Because it matters. If you don’t know exactly who you’re dealing with, men like Putin will eat your lunch.

....Just look at the few things he’s actually said on the subject [of ISIS]. He’s actually said — and I quote — “maybe Syria should be a free zone for ISIS.” Oh, okay — let a terrorist group have control of a major country in the Middle East. Then he said we should send tens of thousands of American ground troops to the Middle East to fight ISIS. He also refused to rule out using nuclear weapons against ISIS, which would mean mass civilian casualties. It’s clear he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

....It also matters when he makes fun of disabled people, calls women pigs, proposes banning an entire religion from our country, or plays coy with white supremacists. America stands up to countries that treat women like animals, or people of different races, religions or ethnicities as less human. [Applause] What happens to the moral example we set — for the world and for our own children — if our President engages in bigotry?

....Imagine Donald Trump sitting in the Situation Room, making life-or-death decisions on behalf of the United States. Imagine him deciding whether to send your spouses or children into battle. Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he’s angry, but America’s entire arsenal. Do we want him making those calls — someone thin-skinned and quick to anger, who lashes out at the smallest criticism? Do we want his finger anywhere near the button?

Very nice! Hillary's remarks seem to have left Trump relatively speechless.1 The best he could do was to claim he is "the opposite of thin-skinned";2 that Hillary's temperament is bad; that she read her speech badly; that she is "pathetic"; and that she killed four people in Benghazi. By Trump's standard, this is very weak tea. All he could do was stutter the equivalent of "I know you are, but what am I?"

Apparently this speech really did get under his skin. But what can he do? His own record over the past few months shows that he's abysmally ignorant of foreign affairs. He doesn't know what the nuclear triad is.3 He favors Britain leaving the EU but has never heard of "Brexit."4 He doesn't know where Iraq's oil is.5 He doesn't know the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas.6 He's blissfully unaware that Germany cares a great deal about Ukraine.7 He was taken by surprise when he learned that US companies aren't allowed to sell planes to Iran.8 He thinks Iran is the main trading partner of North Korea.9 These are all howling bloopers. Anyone who had so much as perused a daily newspaper over the past couple of decades would be familiar with all this stuff.

Apparently Trump hasn't done that. What's more, over the past year, while he was running for president, he still didn't bother. This is inexplicable, even for Trump. How is it that he hasn't picked up more stuff just by osmosis? It's not only scary, it's genuinely puzzling. He obviously cares so little about foreign affairs that he actively resists learning anything about it. I guess that might ruin his prized ability to say anything he wants without letting facts get in the way.

1Note that "relatively" is the key word here. Nothing actually shuts the guy up.

2Just spitballing here, but I think the word he's searching for is "thick-skinned."

3Missiles, airplanes, and submarines.

4Brexit = Britain Exit.

5Pretty much all over the country.

6Hezbollah operates in Lebanon; Hamas operates in Israel (the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Territories).

7For example: "From the start, Merkel has played an impressive role in responding to the Ukraine crisis. In fact, her actions have allowed Germany to assume geopolitical leadership of Europe for the first time since 1945." Or this: "In the course of the Ukraine conflict that erupted in 2014, Germany has for the first time taken the lead on a major international crisis. The main center of Western action and coordination hasn’t been Washington, Brussels, Paris, or London, but Berlin." Or this from last year's G7 meeting: "Germany, Britain and the US want an agreement to offer support to any EU member state tempted to withdraw backing for the sanctions on Moscow, which are hurting the Russian economy." Etc.

8From his March New York Times interview: "Did you notice they’re buying from everybody but the United States? They’re buying planes, they’re buying everything, they’re buying from everybody but the United States." NYT: "Our law prevents us from selling to them, sir. " Trump: "Uh, excuse me?" NYT: "We still have sanctions in the U.S. that would prevent the U.S. from being able to sell that equipment."

9From the same interview: "Mr. Trump with all due respect, I think it's China that’s the No. 1 trading partner with North Korea." Trump: "I've heard that certainly, but I've also heard from other sources that it's Iran." Actually, it's China, by a factor of about a thousand. Iran and North Korea have basically no bilateral trade.

Here's a jaw-dropping entry in the annals of prosecutorial misconduct. Down in Miami, the US Attorney's office tells defense attorneys to use a local shop called Imaging Universe when they make copies of discovery documents. Its owner, Ignacio E. Montero, then turns around and provides the government with a CD that contains everything the defense has copied:

Arteaga-Gomez [the defense attorney] phoned Montero on April 25 to ask who had told him to provide copies of the CDs to the government. Montero, the motion says, answered that an “agent” told his office manager to do it. “Mr. Montero then stated that he had been providing to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the past 10 years duplicate copies of the discovery documents selected by defense counsel in other cases.”

Montero also forwarded to [defense attorneys] an April 21 email he sent to a healthcare-fraud paralegal in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, stating that he’d provided the Justice Department with duplicates of defense records “since 2006.” Montero added that both his old company, Xpediacopy, and Imaging Universe had done it.

....“The U.S. Attorney’s Office has admitted that Agent Deanne Lindsey had been receiving copies of the CDs and had been keeping the duplicate CDs in a folder as she received them,” the motion says. Lindsey also “confessed to opening four of those duplicate CDs” looking for files, copying and pasting files onto her own CDs and providing “those new CDs to the government’s expert witness for trial preparation,” the motion says.

The government's response is apparently to claim that Lindsey, the FBI agent, was some kind of rogue operator, and prosecutors never saw any of this stuff. Maybe so. But then, that's what they always say, isn't it?

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in May

The American economy added 38,000 new jobs last month. However, since we need 90,000 new jobs just to keep up with population growth, this means that net job growth clocked in at a dismal -52,000 jobs. The official excuse for this drop was the big Verizon strike, but that seems unlikely to account for more than a fraction of the bad news.

The headline unemployment rate declined to 4.7 percent, but obviously this isn't because more people found work. It's because a whopping half million people—most of them unemployed—simply dropped out of the labor force. The bleak arithmetic is on the right. However, it's not clear why so many people exited the labor force. Some are new retirees, of course. More pointedly, some of them appear to be long-term unemployed who got discouraged and gave up looking for work, but that accounts for only part of the drop.

Unsurprisingly, labor force participation was down by 0.2 percentage points. Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees were up at an annual rate of about 1.7 percent compared to last month, which means wages were about flat in real terms. Overall, this was a really discouraging report. If you insist on a silver lining, here it is: It's probably less likely now that the Fed will raise interest rates at their next meeting.

Donald Trump's core support is, famously, concentrated among whites with high school degrees or less. Via Ronald Brownstein, here's how these folks feel about cultural change:

No surprise here. They're a little bit sexist, a little bit homophobic, a little bit racist, and a little bit xenophobic. In other words, perfect for Trump.

Why bring this up? I realize I'm beating a dead horse here, but this particular horse needs to be put well and truly out of its misery. These folks aren't voting for Trump because of economic angst. That may play a minor role, but it's not what really bugs them. The economy has been picking up for years and all of the evidence suggests that most Trump supporters are doing at least OK financially. What bugs them is culture war stuff.

This is nothing new. These are the same folks who deserted George McGovern over acid, amnesty, and abortion. They're the Reagan Democrats. They're the Rush Limbaugh shock troops. They're the core audience for Fox News. They're the tea party. They've been deserting the Democratic Party over "family values" for more than 40 years.

This is important not because liberals should spend more time berating these folks as racist and sexist and homophobic. We should probably do less of that. It's important because everyone needs to understand what it would take to peel off Trump's supporters. It's not going to happen by campaigning on Wall Street regulation or trade deals or the minimum wage. It can only happen by soft-pedaling liberal support for civil rights, gay rights, immigration reform, and so forth. Does anyone want to do that?

I didn't think so.

Once and for all, let's put the whole "economic angst" argument into the ashcan of history. It's out there. It's an issue. But it's not a big one. The folks who support Trump are doing it because they think white male culture is under siege. That's why Trump doesn't spend much time talking about his tax plan but does spend day after day ranting about judge Gonzalo Curiel being unfair to Trump because he's "of Mexican heritage" and a member of a Latino lawyers' association. His followers eat that stuff up, and we're going to be hearing a lot more of it over the next few months.

Which is better, in-band signaling or out-of-band signaling? Old-school telecom geeks know what I'm talking about. In-band means that control codes (start, stop, ready, etc.) are transmitted as part of the data stream. Out-of-band means that control signals are transmitted on a dedicated channel separate from the data stream.

Why bring this up? Because it's gained new salience in the era of Trump falsehoods: They now come so thick and fast that new standards have to be developed to deal with them. CNN, for example, apparently endorses out-of-band fact checking. They simply let Trump speak and paste the fact checking into the chyron. The New York Times, by contrast, prefers in-band fact checking. They let readers know about Trump's lies directly in the text of their stories.

Which is the better standard? Do we even need a standard for correcting Trump's lies? Will Trump be able to overwhelm us regardless of which standard we choose? These are critical questions for the upcoming campaign season. Who will take the lead on this?

Here's the Best News We've Gotten All Year

No joke. This may be boring as hell, but it really and truly is great news:

Federal Reserve officials strongly signaled they will toughen big-bank capital requirements even more than they have since the 2008 crisis, a move that will add to the pressure on the largest U.S. banks to consider shrinking. Fed governors Daniel Tarullo and Jerome Powell, in separate public comments on Thursday, said the Fed would require eight of the largest U.S. banks to maintain more equity to pass the central bank’s annual “stress tests.”

“Effectively, this will be a significant increase in capital,” Mr. Tarullo said on Bloomberg television....Mr. Powell said at a banking conference that the Fed’s move would make big banks “fully internalize the risk” they pose to the economy.

“I have not reached any conclusion that a particular bank needs to be broken up or anything like that,” he said. The point is to “raise capital requirements to the point at which it becomes a question that banks have to ask themselves.”

Bernie Sanders has campaigned heavily on the idea of breaking up big banks. But that shouldn't be our goal. Our goal should be to make banks safer and to reduce the likelihood that they need to be bailed out in the future. That's what higher capital requirements do: they force banks to carry a bigger buffer against losses, which makes them less likely to fail in any future downturn.

As it happens, new regulations put in place since the financial meltdown of 2008 have already increased capital requirements, but big banks still have an unfair advantage in the market: their funding costs are lower because investors figure they'll be bailed out if they ever implode in the future. To make up for this, big banks should, as Tarullo said, "fully internalize the risk" they pose to the economy. In other words, if big banks have an automatic advantage simply because taxpayers have little choice but to rescue them in case they fail, they should be required to pay higher insurance premiums against failure. That's essentially what higher capital requirements do.

This is fair. However, higher capital requirements also make big banks less profitable, which in turn gives them a strong incentive to downsize all on their own. And that's how it should be. There's no reason for the Fed or anyone else to pick and choose banks to break up. We just need to make sure they're reasonably safe and are operating on a level playing field. If we do this, we're providing an organic incentive to downsize. The banks themselves get to decide whether and how to do it.

The only bad news here is that the Fed is unlikely to raise capital requirements enough to suit me. Nonetheless, this is very much another step in the right direction.