Friday Cat Blogging - 1 July 2016

Whenever we leave the house via the front door—usually to take a walk—the cats wait patiently for us. I don't know how long they'd wait for us before falling asleep, but longer than 20 minutes, anyway. This is what we always come back to: a pair of cats keeping watch out the window, waiting for our return. The only variation comes from Hilbert, who sometimes waits next to the front-door window, hoping he can make an escape when we open the door. He never seems to realize that staring out the window gives the game away.

Here's How To Do Free Trade Right

Jared Bernstein says that Donald Trump has a legitimate point about the problems with American trade agreements:

The process by which they’re negotiated is undemocratic, they uplift investor rights over sovereign rights, they reverse the order in which certain challenges should be tackled, and they fail to deal with currency issues. But globalization cannot nor should not be stopped. Done right, it delivers great benefits to advanced countries through the increased supply of goods, and it helps improve the living standards of workers in developing countries through profits made from trade with wealthier nations. Trump’s tariffs would undermine all of that.

Most liberals agree with this criticism. Until Trump, in fact, opposition to trade deals was mostly limited to liberals—and still is, judging by the number of Republicans who oppose Trump's trade agenda. But as Bernstein says, international trade is basically a good thing. So what should we do to make it fairer? Tariffs and trade wars aren't the answer. Here are Bernstein's five recommendations:

Take action against those who suppress the value of their currencies relative to the dollar.

Change the sequencing of labor and environmental rights. Any benefits to partners in terms of market access must be preceded by confirmation that labor and environmental rights are enforced. That means that countries we enter trade agreements with must offer sustained evidence that conditions on the ground have improved, and that we withdraw trade benefits when there’s evidence of backsliding.

Relocate risk in investor disputes. The current Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process is set up in such a way that investors in countries that are signatories to trade deals can, through non-elected tribunals, override the sovereign laws of developing countries....The answer to this problem is to shift this risk away from the broader public and back to the investors themselves. The way to accomplish this is by taking ISDS out of future trade agreements and insisting that investors privately insure themselves against investment losses.

Take a public welfare stance toward patent and copyright protections. Trade agreements should not increase protectionism. They should not extend patents or limit the competition that reduces prices and increases access to needed medicines.

Sunlight disinfects trade agreements. The trade agreement process is uniquely secretive and exclusive — and as a result non-representative of the views of millions of people affected by the deal....This level of secrecy must end. We’re not talking about nuclear codes but about the formulation of policies that will affect the everyday economic lives of every American. US-proposed text and then the texts of agreements after each negotiating round ought to be made publicly available.

Personally, I think the second point is the most important. We talk endlessly about protecting labor in these agreements, but nothing much ever really happens. The only way it will is to insist that labor rights come first, before markets are opened up.

Conversely, I've never been convinced that ISDS is quite the villain it's made out to be. I'm open to argument on this score, but trade agreements always need some kind of enforcement authority outside the nation states themselves, and ISDS is one of them. It's been around for a long time, and really doesn't seem to have done any harm to US interests.

The latest weirdness from the Donald Trump campaign is its June fundraising efforts. Trump is apparently having trouble raising money from the usual Republican suspects, but wants to avoid the embarrassment of yet another FEC report showing that he has no money. So he's turning to small-dollar fundraising via email. This shouldn't have been a problem. Conservatives mastered this approach to raising money a long time ago, so all Trump had to do was hire one of the many firms who have accumulated gigantic email lists and specialize in wringing donations out of ordinary citizens.

But apparently he didn't do that. For the past few days, reports have come in of people overseas being spammed with Trump fundraising emails. And not just any foreigners: members of foreign parliaments. This is peculiar, to say the least. First, it's illegal. Foreigners aren't allowed to contribute to presidential campaigns. Second, it's easy to avoid. Just purge your email list of addresses ending in .uk, .dk, etc. Any experienced email shop would already have done this. So where did Trump's email list come from?

Josh Marshall has been following this for several days, and he has a theory:

So Tim Watts is my new best friend in the Australian federal parliament. MP Tim Watts. Needless to say, we're pals now because he's getting bombarded by the Trump campaign asking for money to fight 'Crooked Hillary'....When I chatted with Tim last night (US Time) he said he'd gotten two more Trump emails in the last 7 hours hours. But when he showed me the emails, something pretty weird was immediately apparent.

They weren't actually just from Trump. One was from the Trump campaign. The other was from a pro-Trump Super Pac called Crippled America PAC.

Now, normally (i.e., completely separate from anything to do with Trump) it would be entirely unremarkable that someone was getting fundraising emails both from a campaign and also Super PACs supporting the campaign. They're likely both buying lists from the same vendor or even different vendors of likely Trump voters.

But remember, Tim is a foreign citizen and part of the government in another country. We've already speculated about the various ways all these foreign legislators could have ended up on Trump's list. The more we've looked into it, it seems increasingly implausible that he got this list from a list vendor. Not impossible just not likely at all. It now seems more probable that the Trump Organization simply had these emails in some business related database and decided to dump them into the email hopper for the fundraising blitz or just found some site that had a zip file of foreign government officials and used that.

....Given what I've said above, the existence of this list almost has to originate in Trump Derpland. A virtual certainty. So how did the same list end up in the hands of a Trump SuperPac? I looked up Crippled America PAC and as of their last filing just a couple weeks ago, they're total budget was $40. No m or b after that $ sign, forty bucks, the price of a fancy dinner. So obviously CAP was just stood up and actually started operating just now. And now they're showing up in Tim's inbox.

Marshall believes that this is a pretty obvious sign of coordination between the Trump campaign and a Trump Super PAC, which is a big non-no. What's more, they didn't even bother trying to hide it. There are undoubtedly ways they could have coordinated while still passing legal muster, but either they didn't have time for that or didn't know they weren't allowed to coordinate or just didn't care.

Wherever the list came from, I guess it's a pretty lousy one: I've gotten several Trump fundraising emails too, and I'm pretty sure there's nothing in my background that suggests I'd be soft touch for a Trump donation. Conversely, I never received a Ben Carson email while he was busy with his campaign grift. Apparently he at least cared enough to hire a decent vendor.

A sample from Monday is on the right. It comes from contact@victoryemails.com, whatever that is. I got another one from rnc@gopvictory.com, which I suppose originates from the Republican National Committee? All very strange.

A few months ago the FCC—or its three Democratic commissioners, anyway—proposed doing away with set-top boxes. They're basically a rip-off, doing next to nothing in return for a monthly rental that lasts forever. The FCC's proposal was for cable companies to make all programming information available in a standard format, so anyone could use it. You could replace your cable company's box with Roku or Apple TV or an app or just buy a box from someone else.

The cable companies all went ballistic, of course, and now the FCC is backing down in the face of an alternative proposal from the cable industry. The proposal itself isn't too bad—it relies on "Consumer Apps" downloaded from the cable companies—but the question is whether the industry is serious about it. The Register's Kieren McCarthy is pretty skeptical:

The cable industry's first target will be to ensure nothing is agreed for six months until after the presidential elections in November. Tom Wheeler's term as FCC chair doesn't officially end until 2018 but traditionally, the FCC chair steps down when a new president comes into office.

Adding to that, and helping to explain her sudden dislike of the cable box plan she voted in favor of, Jessica Rosenworcel's term officially ends this week — 30 June 2016. Even though she has been approved for a second term by President Obama, Congress is dragging out her confirmation in an effort to force Wheeler to resign early. If he resigns, Senate Republicans have said, they will confirm her. Wheeler so far is refusing to blink.

If the Senate doesn't approve Rosenworcel by the end of the year — December 31, 2016 — she has to leave the FCC: a casualty in partisan warfare fed by cable company dollars.

With the FCC taking on the cable industry in so many other ways — net neutrality rules and data privacy rules being just two — it looks as though the regulator has bitten off more than it can chew with its cable box plan.

It was a good idea while it lasted. Unfortunately, Republicans, as usual, are inexplicably opposed to any regulation that increases competition in the TV world. It's unclear why they so consistently take the side of a monopolistic industry hated by consumers, but there you have it.

Good news from Emmanuel Saez:

The latest IRS data show that incomes for the bottom 99 percent of families grew by 3.9 percent over 2014 levels, the best annual growth rate since 1998....

But you knew there had to be a but, right?

....but incomes for those families in the top 1 percent of earners grew even faster, by 7.7 percent, over the same period.

So income inequality continues to increase. Still, over the past two years, the non-super-rich have finally made some gains after seeing their incomes crater during the Great Recession. That's good news as far as it goes. The remaining question is whether this increase is mostly confined to the top 10-20 percent, or if workers in the bottom half of the income distribution also made gains. The chart below, which shows that hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory workers have increased about 3.2 percent over the past two years, suggests that the working class has done about as well as the overall bottom 99 percent. The gains of the past two years appear to be fairly widely spread.

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?