Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Cruising the Web

A lot of analysts of last night's debate have been saying that Trump did well in the first part of the debate, but unfortunately for him, there were two other parts of the debate. However, I was not impressed with what he was saying in that first part of the debate. Yes, he was less bombastic and calmer. But a lot of what he was saying was economic nonsense. He was blasting NAFTA and what a terrible deal it was. Simon Lester at CATO wonders if Trump even knows what NAFTA is. Patrick Gillespie factchecks Trump on his claims on NAFTA.
Tearing up NAFTA would be "horribly disruptive. The fear would be that we would lose jobs, and we wouldn't regain jobs," says Doug Irwin, a Dartmouth College professor who worked in President Reagan's administration on trade deals. He believes ending NAFTA would hurt U.S. companies that ship products to Mexico and wouldn't guarantee jobs come back.

American firms sent $236 billion in goods to Mexico last year, up about 470% from the pre-NAFTA export value in 1993, according to the U.S. Trade Representative
Most economists support the deal.
While Trump delivered a harsh rebuke of the deal, NAFTA actually passed with bipartisan support. The bill passed in the House of Representatives, 234-200, with 132 Republicans supporting the measure and 102 Democrats supporting it. It passed in the Senate, 61-38, with 34 Republicans and 27 Democrats supporting the deal. It was signed by President Bill Clinton on Dec. 8, 1993.

The bill has also been hailed by economists. In 2012, 41 of the world's top economists at the IGM Economic Experts Panel at the University of Chicago agreed that the gains to freer trade are much larger than any costs. Many have agreed that NAFTA's passage did not prompt huge job losses that many detractors had predicted.

"I'd say NAFTA was an overwhelming success," Sara Johnson, an economist told IHS Global Insight, told in 2013. "There are strong, two-way trade flows now."

In the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine, NAFTA was praised for creating "what is today a $19 trillion regional market with some 470 million consumers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce figures that some six million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico and another eight million on trade with Canada."
Sadly, Hillary's lies about her praise of TPP as "the gold standard" for economic deals and her flip-flopping on supporting the deal isn't any better. It's pretty depressing that neither nominee for either party supports free trade.

If Trump understood economics and economic history better, he might have been able to refute Hillary's deceptive claim that the Great Recession "was as in large part because of tax policies that slashed taxes on the wealthy, failed to invest in the middle class, took their eyes off of Wall Street, and created a perfect storm.” As Jack Cashill responds, those factors she just listed had little to do with the recession. In fact, policies by her husband had a whole lot more to do with it. It's a story most economic historians are aware of, but it's a whole lot easier to just blame George W. Bush.
To make the racism story line work, the Clintons had to ignore another significant set of data, namely, default rates. A comprehensive HUD study of FHA loans for the years 1992-1999 found that blacks were defaulting more than twice as frequently as whites, and Hispanics were defaulting three times more frequently. If minorities had been held to a higher standard, their default rates should have been lower than whites, not higher. This was obvious.

No matter. As early as 1993, HUD began to bring legal action against those mortgage bankers who declined a higher percentage of minorities than whites. In 1995, the Clinton administration put teeth in Jimmy Carter’s 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which had merely “encouraged” financial institutions to “help meet the credit needs of local communities.” Under Clinton, regulators moved from encouraging to strong-arming.

The regulators were backed by the street-level bullyboy tactics of the late and unlamented ACORN, shorthand for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Historically, banks had been reluctant to offer home loans to people who might not pay them back, and so ACORN set out to embarrass bankers into overcoming that reluctance.

A sympathetic media romanticized ACORN and turned what might have been a nuisance for the banks into a public-relations nightmare. As the New York Times reported approvingly, “The nation’s largest banks have come to the negotiating table just to silence objections that could derail or create costly delays to a merger.”

To make ACORN’s task easier, the Clinton administration demanded that banks quantify the progress they were making in giving loans to LMIs -- people of “low and moderate income.” The administration encouraged banks to use “innovative or flexible” lending practices to reach their LMI numbers.

Meanwhile HUD, which Congress had made the regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 1992, began to pressure these agencies to set numerical goals for affordable housing, even if that meant buying subprime mortgages. The media cheered the agencies on. A September 1999 Times article commended Fannie Mae for prodding banks to provide mortgages to those whose credit was “not good enough to qualify for conventional loans.”

With a gun to their head, the lenders turned to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to relieve them of the imprudent loans they were now being forced to make. Before the 1990s, Fannie and Freddie had sufficiently tough lending standards that default was not much of an issue. That would change.

In 1999, the Clintons’ newly appointed CEO, Franklin Delano Raines, was boasting of the changes Fannie Mae had already made and the changes to come. As he told the Times, Fannie Mae had lowered the down payment requirements for a home and now planned to extend credit to borrowers a “notch below its traditional standards.” That notch was spelled subprime.

Given the greater risk, subprime prospects typically have had to pay more interest to secure a loan. For investors, high interest translated into high yield. In October 1997, the investment banks Bear Stearns and First Union Capital Markets underwrote the first securitization of subprime loans for a total of $385 million.

The back-patting press release announcing the launch hit all the bubble-era hot buttons: these “affordable” and “flexible” mortgages offered the possibility of credit for “low and moderate income families” in “traditionally underserved markets.”

These securities proved enormously popular. They promised a 7.5 percent yield in a low-interest environment and, if that were not enough, a chance to cleanse one’s venal Wall Street soul by doing what appeared to be a social good.

To rally the base a week before the 2000 election, the Clinton administration announced historic new regulations that would put a further squeeze on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “These new regulations will greatly enhance access to affordable housing for minorities, urban residents, new immigrants and others left behind, giving millions of families the opportunity to buy homes,” said HUD Secretary, now New York State governor, Andrew Cuomo.

The regs upped Fannie and Freddie’s “affordable housing” quota from 42 to 50 percent. “We have not been a major presence in the subprime market,” boasted CEO Raines, “but you can bet that under these goals, we will be.”

Raines deflected criticism by focusing on Fannie Mae’s success at social engineering. “We have met or exceeded our affordable housing goals, even as they have increased,” he told the Congressional Finance Committee in late 2003. He also shared the company’s “voluntary goal,” namely, to “lead the market in serving minority families.”

When President Bush expressed concern about the precarious state of Fannie and Freddie in June 2004, he triggered seventy-six Democrats in Congress to sign a letter warning that “an exclusive focus on safety and soundness is likely to come, in practice, at the expense of affordable housing.”

Despite early signs of impending disaster, Congress kept the pressure on. On June 27, 2005, Barney Frank, the ranking Democrat on House Financial Services Committee, took to the House floor to chide those who worried about a housing bubble.

“You are not going to see the collapse that you see when people talk about a bubble,” he lectured his colleagues. “So those on our committee in particular are going to continue to push for homeownership.”

And push they did. Subprime credit had become, what one wag called, “the mad cow disease of structured finance.” With a clean bill of health from the media and the Democrats, and a shockingly ignorant assist from Wall Street, the infected product was allowed to poison the entire economy.

No sweat for Hillary. The final convulsion -- Phew! -- occurred on George Bush’s watch.
Avik Roy, writing in Forbes, provides the evidence to refute Hillary's phony explanation blaming tax cuts for the recession.
I realize that the tax cuts signed into law by George W. Bush and nearly entirely ratified by President Obama are a bĂȘte noire of the left. But that doesn’t make them any more relevant to the financial crisis of 2008, an event whose proximate cause was the collapse of a housing bubble driven by the Federal Reserve’s low interest rates; reckless lending policies pushed by Congress, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac; and the resultant boom in cash-out mortgage refinancings.

It’s not just that the Bush tax cuts had nothing to do with the financial crisis. They actually did the opposite of what Hillary claims they did: the wealthy actually contributed more in taxes after the “cuts” went into effect. In 2003, the top 0.1 percent paid $117 billion in taxes. In 2007, they paid $225 billion. In 2003, the top 1 percent paid $256 billion in taxes; in 2007, $451 billion.

Not only did the absolute dollar amount of taxes paid increase, but so did the share of total federal taxes. In 2003, the top 0.1 percent paid 6.6 percent of total federal taxes; that share increased to 8.8 percent in 2007. For the top 1 percent, the share went from 14.4 percent to 17.6 percent. By contrast, the share paid by the bottom 75 percent declined,....

Under President Obama, we’ve endured eight years of sluggish recovery from the financial crisis. Tens of millions of Americans—particularly those without a college education—are falling further behind. We won’t be able to help them if we don’t first understand what we’ve been doing wrong.

Donald Trump has been rightly criticized for blaming foreigners for our economic ills. But Hillary’s claim that tax cuts caused the financial crisis is just as zany. If we’re going to have four years better than the last eight, we’ll need more economic literacy from our next President.
Sadly, Donald Trump either has no more understanding of what caused the recession or lacks the ability to explain what happened. So Hillary gets away with the lies the Democrats have been telling about the recession and he resorts to blaming NAFTA and the Chinese.

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Whining about a microphone is not the sign of a confident man. Bragging about unscientific online polls is not the sign of an intelligent man. Just sayin'.

Those supporters of Donald Trump who are complaining about Lester Holt or media spin or whatever are to blame for Trump's less than stellar showing in the debate should look to their own guy. He is the one who came in unprepared and responded to baiting every time instead of turning the focus back onto his own strongest arguments for the presidency. Time after time he ignored opportunities to come back at Hillary for her corrupt and dishonest actions. He didn't know enough to challenge Hillary's own lies and misstatements. As Jason Riley writes, Trump seemed to have no debate strategy other than to wing it.
If you are Donald Trump, and six weeks before Election Day most voters still view Hillary Clinton as the safer Oval Office choice, you head into the first presidential debate with a simple objective. You must show people that you have the knowledge and temperament for the job....

But you also know what’s in store. You know you will be asked about unreleased tax returns, high-profile police shootings and your repugnant birtherism. You know that Mrs. Clinton will come prepared with facts and figures and details and that it would be wise for you to do the same. You know the first female nominee of a major party is likely to bring up, among other things, your past remarks about women. You know she will provoke you but that you shouldn’t take the bait.

If Mr. Trump had a strategy for winning Monday night’s face-off with Mrs. Clinton, it remains as secret as his plan to defeat Islamic State. The Republican nominee looked and sounded frighteningly unprepared. Split-screen shots showed him shifting his weight, rolling his eyes, impatient. Then he would open his mouth and make matters worse with rambling, self-centered responses that often trailed off into incoherence.

The one thing everybody already knows about Donald Trump is that he’s very rich, yet the candidate couldn’t stop reminding us of this fact throughout the evening and no matter the context. Asked about recent racial unrest following police shootings around the country, he began, “When I look at Charlotte, a city that I love, a city where I have investments . . . .”

While discussing gun violence in Chicago, Mr. Trump noted that he owns properties there as well. He even found a way to plug his new hotel, the Trump International in Washington, D.C. And he assured voters that he’s “extremely underleveraged” and has “tremendous income.” The developer said he’s not bragging, just citing his credentials. “It’s about time that this country has somebody running it that has an idea about money,” he said. Apparently, Hillary Clinton is too poor to be president.

Mr. Trump did nothing Monday to help his standing with the women and minority voters who are likely to decide the election. When confronted with past sexist remarks, he remained silent or said the women “deserved” it. Democrats deserve criticism for their treatment of black voters, but it’s hard to take it seriously coming from a man who seems to have discovered black America about 15 minutes ago. Someone on Team Trump ought to inform the candidate that the vast majority of black people in the U.S. are neither unemployed nor living in poverty.

Viewers knew what to expect from Mrs. Clinton, and it’s what she delivered. Her goal was to paint her opponent as reckless, ignorant, petty and tone-deaf, and Mr. Trump went out of his way to help her. When she brought up a Justice Department racial discrimination lawsuit filed against Mr. Trump in the 1970s, he explained that he had settled the case without admitting guilt, not that he hadn’t discriminated against minority tenants. When she accused him of not paying workers what he owed them, including an architect who designed a club house at a Trump golf course, Mr. Trump didn’t deny the charge and responded, “Maybe he didn’t do a good job and I was unsatisfied.”

Trump supporters no doubt felt that way about their candidate after watching the first debate. The surprise is not that Mrs. Clinton prevailed but that she made it look so easy.
Of course, this is the same Trump we've been seeing for the past year. He brushed off similar questions in the primaries. He turned questions about how he spoke about women into making fun of Rosie O'Donnell or attacking Megyn Kelly and the blood coming out of her wherever. This is no surprise to anyone. Maybe it didn't matter to a plurality of Republican primary voters. But that is no reason to think that it won't matter to general election voters.

The WSJ fact-checks Lester Holt on "stop and frisk." It turns out that Trump was right and Holt was wrong.
Here’s what really happened. The federal judge in the stop-and-frisk case was Shira Scheindlin, a notorious police critic whose behavior got her taken off the case by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court put it this way:

“Upon review of the record in these cases, we conclude that the District Judge ran afoul of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges . . . and that the appearance of impartiality surrounding this litigation was compromised by the District Judge’s improper application of the Court’s ‘related case rule’ . . . and by a series of media interviews and public statements purporting to respond publicly to criticism of the District Court.”

The court then remanded the case to another judge who would not present an appearance of bias against the police. In a follow-up opinion, the appellate judges cited a New Yorker interview with Judge Scheindlin that included a quote from a former law clerk saying “what you have to remember about the judge is that she thinks cops lie.”

This is an extraordinary rebuke by a higher court and raises doubts that the merits of her ruling would have held up on appeal. As Rudolph Giuliani makes clear nearby, the judge’s ruling of unconstitutionality applied only to stop and frisk as it was practiced in New York at the time. Such police search tactics have long been upheld by higher courts.

In the end, the clock ran out on Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and new Mayor Bill de Blasio chose not to appeal. We rate Mr. Trump’s claim true and unfairly second-guessed by a moderator who didn’t give the viewing public all the facts.
Whether stop and frisk worked or would do what Donald Trump was arguing is a whole other debate and there are arguments to be made on both sides. Perhaps that is why Lester Holt should have stayed out of this one and let "the most qualified person to ever run for the presidency" make those arguments.

Harry Reid continues to be one of the most disgustingly partisan leaders we've ever seen in the Senate. He can't leave soon enough. Now he's playing politics with shutting down the government just to get some sort of partisan advantage ahead of the election. And the rest of the Democratic Senators going along with such a disgusting ploy deserve to be exposed for the cynical partisans that they are.

William McGurn has some good questions about why Cheryl Mills was granted immunity by the FBI during the investigation of Hillary Clinton.
Now we learn about the multiple immunity deals. Immunity in exchange for information that will help make the case against higher-ups is not unusual. Even so, the Mills deal carries a special stink.

To begin with, Ms. Mills was pretty high up herself. As Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff, she was in the thick of operations. In 2012, while working at State, she traveled to New York to interview candidates for a top job at the Clinton Foundation.

More disturbing still, not only was Ms. Mills granted immunity for the content on her laptop, she was permitted to act as Mrs. Clinton’s attorney even though she herself was also a witness in the investigation.

This was allowed in part because she told the FBI she knew nothing of Mrs. Clinton’s private server until after she’d left the State Department. But this claim is suspect and contradicted by emails that have since emerged. These include one to Huma Abedin asking, “hrc email coming back—is server ok?”

The special treatment accorded Ms. Mills also reeks on a more fundamental level. As a rule, the Justice Department is aggressive about going after lawyers for any perceived conflict of interest. This would include, for example, a lawyer who wanted to represent different parties in a trial.

By giving Ms. Mills a pass to serve as Mrs. Clinton’s attorney in an investigation in which she was a material witness, Justice allowed her to shield her communications with Mrs. Clinton under attorney-client privilege. Indeed, Ms. Mills invoked that privilege during her own FBI interview.

Imagine Tom Hagen, the mob lawyer played by Robert Duvall in “The Godfather,” discussing with Don Corleone who was to get whacked—and then invoking the lawyer-client relationship to hush it up. Think of it this way and you begin to get the picture.

For those who think the fix was in from the start, Ms. Mills’s presence at Mrs. Clinton’s FBI interview, along with nine other people (not including the two FBI agents) is further evidence of a circus. Judiciary Committee members might do well to ask Mr. Comey why Ms. Mills and so many others were allowed to sit in on that interview.

In short, far from resolving Mrs. Clinton’s email case, the handling of the investigation has provoked questions about integrity of both the FBI and Justice. The big question for Mr. Comey remains this:

You publicly said there was no case for criminal charges. So what did Cheryl Mills need immunity for?

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Noemie Emery explores the Greek tragedy that has been Ted Cruz. He has the tragic flaw of Greek heroes - hubris. He's a man who figured that he was ready to be president just seconds after being elected to the Senate.
Cruz, who had run for the Senate planning to run for president less than halfway through his first term, and made his first visit to Iowa a few months after taking office, apparently had not stopped to consider that his conservative base, which Henry Olsen had estimated as around 35 percent of the Republican Party, was not big enough to get him elected as president, or that running for president with much of his party in a slow rage against him was not on its balance a very smart thing.

Typically, Cruz was the first of the field to announce he was running for president, in March, 2015, barely two years after he was sworn in as a senator. He had built a base of admirers in talk radio, the conservative press and a number of think tanks, and doubtless imagined that backing would follow. Picture his shock when it turned out that most of talk radio, Fox News and almost all of the social conservatives were going for a New York liberal who had never held office, broken all of the rules and many Commandments, and funded and voted for both of the Clintons instead.
He acted honorably by refusing to endorse the man who had insulted his wife and father. Then he flipped and suddenly announced that he agreed with Trump on policy and didn't want Hillary Clinton to be president. Excuse me? Trump hasn't changed his policies since the convention and Hillary is still just as objectionable as she was back then. His excuse is laughable. He decided that it was hurting him politically and needed to change the script, especially now that Trump was doing better in the polls. He is exposed as being just as ambitious and cynical as he was from the moment he arrived in Washington. Well, we know what happened to those exhibiting hubris in Greek mythology. It's not a good picture for Cruz.

Massachusetts is going to be voting on a referendum to increase the number of charter schools. Roger Lowenstein writes about the reasons why some people oppose the bill. They pretend to worry about money going to charter schools instead of regular public school.
Opponents point out that the state’s public schools, on average, consistently rank among the country’s best. True, but the “average” masks some severe underperformance, at urban schools in particular. The argument that charters cherry-pick the best students is a canard. Admission is by lottery, and charter students in urban areas retain their edge when compared against those (presumably equally as motivated) who applied but didn’t get in.

A more substantive concern is that when a student abandons a traditional public school, a pro rata share of funding is diverted from the district school to the charter. Massachusetts has a generous program to reimburse local districts but, over time, aid money goes down. “Since the majority will continue to be educated in mainstream schools we have to be sensitive to that,” says Paul Reville, the top education adviser to Deval Patrick, the former Democratic governor. But Mr. Reville, now at Harvard, adds that school districts also have a responsibility to consolidate if their populations shrink. He says, “We ought to be as vigilant about closing [failing] mainstream schools as we are about charters.”

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Charity really has a different meaning in this year's election. We learned how phony Donald Trump's foundation is. Now we're learning about the Clinton Family Foundation, the Clinton charity. Guess where about 60% of their charitable giving goes? Yup, it goes to the Clinton Foundation.
Nearly 60 percent of the charitable giving last year by Hillary Clinton’s family charity wound up at the Clinton Foundation, according to tax returns obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The Clinton Family Foundation is the charitable vehicle used by the Clintons. It is a separate entity than that of the much larger Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation (the Clinton Foundation). Once the Clintons’ charitable money is placed in the Clinton Family Foundation, they then cut checks to numerous charities.

According to a review of the Clinton Family Foundation’s 2015 Form 990 provided to the Free Beacon by the assistant of Clinton’s tax lawyer, the Clintons disbursed $2,630,500 to charities last year from the family foundation. These donations include $30,000 to Yale University, $50,000 to Georgetown University, $20,000 to the Wildlife Conservation Society, and $25,000 to Hippy USA, among others.

However, a majority of the funds from the Clinton Family Foundation ended up at the Clinton Foundation. Of the $2.6 million in charitable giving the Clintons made last year, $1.5 million, or 57 percent of all of the Clinton’s charitable donations, was funneled to the Clinton Foundation.
How cozy. From now on, I'd prefer candidates who just give charity the old-fashioned way.

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Those poor students at Hofstra. They needed to be provided a trigger warning that the topics at the debate last night might be disturbing to them.
Are college students so fragile that they can't hear the discussion in a presidential debate? If that's so, let's take their right to vote away until they can deal with such a traumatic event. And notice what the sign is warning them about: "sexual violence, sexual assault, and abuse." How did they think those subjects were going to come up in the debate. Perhaps they anticipated Trump bringing up the nasty stuff about Bill's sexual assaults on women that he congratulated himself for not bringing up.

Free speech is getting expensive at DePaul University.
Speech is free at DePaul University, so long as you’re willing to pay for it.

That is the regrettable lesson DePaul administrators have taught three separate registered student organizations—the DePaul Socialists, Young Americans for Freedom, and the College Republicans—that sought to exercise their free speech rights on DePaul’s campus this year. Each group had to pay exorbitant “security fees”—or speech taxes—to do so because of the content of their message.

On Friday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote to DePaul, demanding that it honor the explicit free speech promises it makes to its students and cease its practice of charging security fees to student organizations based on the perceived controversial content of their events.