Get With The Program

February 6th, 2017

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson and the other framers of the constitution made sure that our democracy included a free press.  They understood that it was a vital check on the power that they were investing in government

What happens to our democracy when a significant number of voters reject even the concept of an unbiased media?

The American Journal of Political Science recently released a study to answer the question of how this could happen.

Political affiliation is now a stronger predictor of behavior than even race.  People are much more accepting of someone of a different race as a potential spouse than they are of someone who has differing political views.

Many who are sharing fake news understand that it may not be accurate, but they share it none the less because it supports their point of view.  More importantly it also demonstrates to their peers that they are trusted members of that social group.

Conservatives may also be more fearful.

According to a study slated to be published in the journal Psychological Science, it might be true that conservatives are more likely to fall for false, threatening-seeming information, but it’s not because they’re dumb. It’s because they’re hyper-attuned to hazards in their world. If they spot a sign of danger, they figure trusting it is better than ignoring it.

That’s all fine and good for Facebook users.  But what happens when the President of the United States starts saying things are aren’t supported by facts?

You’ve got frivolous things like the size of the inauguration crowd (smaller than Obama physically and virtually), blaming his loss of the popular vote on illegal voting (voter rolls have problems, but no evidence of illegal voting, supported by recounts in Wisconsin and Michigan), the biggest Republican victory since Reagan (Bush I was bigger), and his standing ovation at the CIA speech (CIA officers stand until requested to sit.  He never asked them to sit.)

But then you have things that affect people’s lives.

An executive order that counters the dramatic expansion of the federal workforce when the federal workforce is the same today as it was 8 years ago.

A ban on Muslims from 7 countries including Syria, when no Muslim immigrants from those countries has ever committed an act of terrorism in this country.

Trump suggested that there were only 100 or so people affected.  His lawyers later testified in court that over 100,000 were effected.  How could he have been so far off?

Trump provided preference to Christians because he said that they were having a more difficult time previously getting into the country.  That’s not true either.  We admitted Christians and Muslims at roughly the same rate. The smaller number of Syrian Christians is due to the fact that they are only 5% of the Syrian population.

His administration cited a fictitious massacre in Bowling Green, KY as evidence that we should fear Muslim immigrants.  The data suggests that US citizens are MUCH more likely going to be the perpetrators of mass killings than immigrants.  This ban will likely only alienate the domestic Muslim population further, at the precise time that we need their help.

At home as well, Mr. Benjamin said, the president’s order is likely to prove counterproductive. The jihadist threat in the United States has turned out to be largely homegrown, he said, and the order will encourage precisely the resentments and anxieties on the part of Muslims that fuel, in rare cases, support for the ideology of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda.

In our country, journalists have the responsibility to hold elected officials accountable.  They do that by informing voters and speaking truth to power.  There is no one else.  Yet Trump is systematically delegitimizing the trustworthiness of the press.  Why is that?

Some claim that this is the influence of Bannon.  His world view is that the old order is corrupt and must be overthrown.  He believes that we are literally at war with an expansionist Islamic philosophy and the solution is to exert our own sovereignty.  Rather than make the world safer through alliances, he would prefer that the US protect itself through power and nationalism.  The press, in his opinion, is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  That’s because he views himself as a radical and he feels his own cause justifies ANY ACTION.

This is an old and proven strategy.  Create fear of “the other”.  Convince people that the only way to be safe it to eliminate “the other” from our society.  The simple math is that you are either with us or you are against us.  If you are against us, you become part of “the other” should be treated in the same way that we are treating “them”.  You hear some of that language coming from the administration today in reactions to dissent.

In a democracy, we have to hold our elected officials accountable to telling the truth.  It is THEIR responsibility to separate belief from fact.  If we can’t trust that our elected officials are making their decisions based on the best facts available to them, our institutions begin to unravel because they can no longer be trusted to deal fairly with all people.  And that’s the key here. Bannon isn’t interested in dealing fairly with all people.  He is interested in a revolution where HIS OWN VISION of the future triumphs, not the vision of the founders, or even the vision of the majority.

The danger to democracy when people stop believing the press is that they will ultimately stop believing in the rest of the institutions that are the foundation for our society.  That’s the moment that demagogues can gain followers by claiming that they are the only ones that are willing to tell the truth.  The reality is that they are the ones manipulating the tribalism they create and the fear they instill to undermine democracy and usurp power.  It is a proven formula.  Don’t let it happen here.

 

Bias and Free Press

January 10th, 2017

freedom-of-the-press-big

One of the freedoms cherished by the founding fathers was a free press.

They felt it was an essential part of a robust democracy.

They also were not so naïve as to ignore the challenges that come with unfettered publishing.

The basic challenge is balancing the public’s right to know with the power that a biased press has to influence the public to advance its own political agenda.

There have been times when there were no restrictions on the press at all.  The press were propaganda arms of the political parties during Lincoln’s time.  At the turn of the last century sensational yellow journalism ruled.  Pulitzer and Hurst used their newspapers to start the Spanish American War.  They also advocated the assassination of McKinley which then occurred.  Pulitzer was so troubled by his “yellow sins”, that he dedicated himself to creating a new code of ethics for newspapers.  That code survives to this day, though only a handful of newspapers still support it.

The government had some better grounds to control the broadcast media because they were using public bandwidth.  The last vestige of government regulations controlling broadcast news coverage (The Fairness Doctrine and Equal Time Requirements) were eliminated during the Reagan administration.  Every attempt to restore at least those provisions, has been opposed by both conservatives and liberals.  Obama, for example, preferred net neutrality, caps on media ownership, and investments in public broadcasting as ways to encourage a wide range of media options for voters.

Public opinion STRONGLY supports the equal time requirements.  Similar majorities rejected the concept that news sites should be required to present opposing points of view (Fairness Doctrine).

Combine this with the “narrow casting” business model available to online and broadcast media, and you have the “something for everyone” landscape that we enjoy today.

The extreme of this phenomena is fake news.  The purpose of fake news is to sell advertising.  That is the same business model legit news organizations use.  The difference is that fake news outlets don’t actually report on anything.  Their stories are fiction intended to manipulate rather than inform their target audience.  The bulk of the fake news operations focus on conservative conspiracy theories because they’ve found that those get the most clicks.

The following graph does as good a job as any in attempting to explain the current landscape.

trusted-sources

Whether or not you agree with how individual news sources appear on this spectrum isn’t really the issue.  The issue is that this spectrum exists and the further you get from the middle vertically and horizontally, the less reliable the information becomes.

Bias

Bias does not mean that someone disagrees with you.

Bias means that a news organization’s political opinion influences either their news choices and/or the content of their stories.

As you can see from the above graph, there are very few news sources that meet the criteria of being free from partisan bias – NPR, BBC, WashPost, NYT, NBC News, ABC News, AP, and Reuters.  It does not include Fox or MSNBC.  It does not include Slate, The Atlantic, The WSJ, or The Hill.

Conservatives have spent decades disputing the claim that Fox is biased and the NYT is not.  There is no winning this debate.

But here’s the core of the discussion.

Democracy needs reliable sources of facts that we can all trust in order to move forward.

Fox fails this test because they blur the boundaries between opinion (they call it entertainment) and news.  Hannity is just one example.  He has a news show, but also was an official adviser to the Trump campaign.  His defense is that he claims to be an entertainer and not a journalist.  This is the same defense that John Steward used on the Daily Show.  The Daily Show makes no claims to be fair or balanced.  Fox does.

The WSJ also recently failed this test.  That’s because their editor has said that the paper will no longer fact check Trump.  Instead the paper will simply present readers information and let the readers decide whether or not Trump is telling the truth.

I honestly think it is pretty easy to sort all of this out.

Let’s look at what each news source says are their code of ethics.

Here’s what the NYT says:

The core purpose of The New York Times is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news and information. Producing content of the highest quality and integrity is the basis for our reputation and the means by which we fulfill the public trust and our customers’ expectations.

Here’s what Fox News says:

The Fox Nation was created for people who believe in the United States of America and its ideals, as expressed in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a community that believes in the American Dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. One that believes being an American is an honor, as well as a great responsibility – and a wonderful adventure.

This is a place for people who believe we live in a great country, a welcoming refuge for legal immigrants who want to contribute their talents and abilities to make our way of life even greater. We believe we should enjoy the company and support of each other, delighting in the creativity, ingenuity, and work ethic of one and all, while observing the rules of civility and mutual respect and, most importantly, strengthening our diverse society by striving for unity.

The Fox Nation is committed to the core principles of tolerance, open debate, civil discourse, and fair and balanced coverage of the news. It is for those opposed to intolerance, excessive government control of our lives, and attempts to monopolize opinion or suppress freedom of thought, expression, and worship.

We invite all Americans who share these values to join us here at Fox Nation.

I tried to find an ethics or mission statement for the WSJ, but they appear not to have one.

In other words, NYT is committed to distribute high quality news and information.  Fox News is committed to creating an experience for a particular group of people who all share a common point of view.  The WSJ is going to do whatever it needs to do to make money.  All have been true to their stated goals.

Summary

It is possible to find unbiased organizations who strive to report the news in a straight forward manner and inform the public on what is true and what is false.

It is also possible to find biased organizations who will report the news, and in some case make up news, to suit their audience.  They have a particular point of view that they promote.  They filter and in some cases alter or invent what they call news in order to re-inforce that particular point of view.  Those who choose to rely on these sources of information and fundamentally misinformed.

Next up:  How does democracy function in an environment where at least some portion of the electorate are either uninformed or misinformed?

Trump’s Ticking Time Bomb

December 22nd, 2016

time-bomb

There are a lot of things that could blow up the young Trump presidency. Conflicts of interest abound. Russian hacking could easily become the dog that bit its owner. Foreign conflicts involving China, Russia, Israel, Turkey, or Iran all loom on the horizon. ISIS lone-wolf attacks will continue and may soon begin to focus on Trump properties here and abroad. Obamacare, however, may prove the first issue to seriously wound Trump.

Trump made a lot of promises during his campaign. He has already discounted many of them as “campaign talk”. But he isn’t going to be able to walk away from his Obamacare promise. That promise was to replace the current healthcare insurance system with “something terrific” that will provide better coverage at a lower price for more people.

His supporters are likely going to give him a pass on his conflicts of interest. They will also give him a pass if he doesn’t start building the wall right away. They won’t care if he takes a while to renegotiate NAFTA and the TPP. They also aren’t going to demand immediate action on immigration reform. He’s already told them that he isn’t going to “lock up” Clinton or Obama.

Obamacare, however, is immediate and personal.

Many of those who voted for Trump were upset about the fact that their insurance bills went up this past year.

Their expectation is that Trump is going to come up with a better plan which will provide them insurance which meets their needs at a price they can afford. They are unhappy with high deductible plans. They are unhappy with lack of choice. They are also unhappy with the perception that poor people are getting a better deal through Medicaid than they are.

Health care, for all its tediousness, is extremely emotional. Sickness brings out our most vulnerable selves. When the system built to keep you alive lets you down, the urge to start afresh can be irresistible.

“I hope that Mr. Trump is working with someone as we speak on this,” Starry said. “Figure it out, guys. That’s what we hired you to do.”

The problem is that Trump is not going to be able to immediately change the fundamental economics that are driving growth in healthcare costs. Obamacare was originally passed to address the fact that healthcare costs were growing much faster than the overall economy. Obamacare has been effective in slowing the growth of healthcare costs, but it has been a very delicate balance. Recent premium increases under Obamacare reflect a couple of important facts. The risk mix between low cost and higher cost people is still too high for insurance companies. Small business did not exit the insurance market, as many predicted. So a higher number of younger healthier working people are getting their insurance from their employers rather than through the Obamacare exchanges. Also the number of younger healthier people willing to just pay the penalties is higher than projected. As a result, insurance companies are raising their rates to offset the higher costs of care for their insured populations.

Trump’s second problem with Obamacare is just as large as his first one. Conservative Republicans have their own agenda that goes well beyond Obamacare. Repealing Obamacare is just the first step in the conservative Republican plan to unravel the social safety net that they feel leads to dependency. They are not particularly interested in replacing Obamacare with anything. If they are able to repeal Obamacare without offering a viable alternative, they will next take aim at privatizing Medicare and Social Security.

If Trump is unable to focus his majority on tax reform, immigration, and jobs — they will happily spend their time and his political capital on their ideological agenda.

That will spell doom for Trump and his Republican majority.

Those voters who were angry about increases in their premiums in 2016 will be outraged when their policies are canceled, there are no affordable options, and insurance companies resume denying care for those they perceive as high risk.

If the Trump Congress follows a “kick the can on replacement” Obamacare repeal with suggestions on how Medicare and Social Security can be “improved”, the furry will reverberate across the country. The backlash will be worse than the 2010 Tea Party revolt. Voters will punish Trump and Republicans in 2018. If Trump manages to survive until 2020, he will lose in a landslide to Elizabeth Warren or whomever else the Democrats end up nominating.

What Happened?

December 20th, 2016

what-just-happened-g

 

We elected Trump president.

He is by all objective accounts the least qualified person ever elected to this office.  Yes he is a businessman and by all appearances a very wealthy person.  We have elected business people to this office in the past, but never one with absolutely no government experience.  We have also elected wealthy people to this office in the past, but never one who claims to be as wealthy as this guy.  As a result, we have no idea how he will perform because we have no previous history to use as comparison.  The closest we can come is Herbert Hoover, and that didn’t work out so well.

In as a dispassionate way as possible, I’d like to figure out why and then perhaps lay out just a few of the challenges that he and we will face.

Change

Republicans began this race with a significant advantage.  US voters simply don’t like to give any particular party more than 8 years in the White House.

The Clinton campaign understood this challenge.  As it became clear that Trump would be the Republican nominee, they crafted a strategy to highlight the risks of electing someone with so little government experience.  They framed this election as a choice between change and risk.

Here’s an example of how Clinton discussed this choice.

Donald Trump’s ideas aren’t just different – they are dangerously incoherent. They’re not even really ideas – just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.

He is not just unprepared – he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.

As proof of how effective her message was, Clinton won these points.

  • Just 38 percent of voters said that Trump was “qualified” to be president (52 percent said the same of Clinton).
  • Just 35 percent said Trump had the “temperament to serve effectively as president” (55 percent said Clinton had the right temperament to be president).
  • One in three voters said Trump was honest and trustworthy (36 percent said the same of Clinton).

But she still lost the popular vote in the key states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida.  That’s because the desire for change was stronger than the perceived risks associated with that change.  Four in 10 voters said the most important character trait in deciding their vote was a candidate who “can bring needed change” to Washington. Of that group, Trump won 83 percent to Clinton’s 14 percent.  In effect, all that Trump had to do is demonstrate that he was NOT part of the establishment in order to win this election.  For the change voters, particularly in the key battleground states that I listed, all of his objective weaknesses were strengths.

Demographics

I had thought that the Obama victories spelled the end of white angry male politics.

I was wrong.

Clinton still did well with emerging demographics.  The white male voter segment is getting smaller in every election including this one.  That vote increased 2% from 2012-2016.  In comparison the black vote increased 6%.  The Asian vote increased 16% and the Hispanic vote increased 17%.  The problem for Clinton was that most of those votes were in states like California rather than the battleground states where Trump was able to eke out narrow victories.

Clinton won 55% of the young vote, but they weren’t as large a percentage of the total vote in 2016 as they were in 2008 or 2012.  Clinton also improved as a percentage of 65+ voters over those who voted for Obama in 2012, though Trump won that demographic by roughly 10%.

Issues

The country continues to become more liberal as demographics change.

The vote on immigration this election was almost evenly split.  That is a dramatic improvement over the negative view of immigration a decade ago.  74% of Americans now believe that there should be a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.  61% oppose building a wall.

Large majorities of all voters support more aggressive actions on gun control including expanded background checks, keeps guns out of the hands of those with mental health issues, barring those on no-fly lists from purchasing guns, tracking gun purchases in a national database, banning the sale of high capacity ammunition clips, and even restricting the sale of assault-type weapons.

65% of voters are concerned about climate change and believe it is a real issue.

60% support same sex marriage and LGBT rights.  A majority also oppose “Freedom of Religion” laws.

Where We Go From Here

There are a number of issues that could easily derail a Trump presidency.  The basic challenges remain that he is deeply inexperienced AND that he has chosen to surround himself with others who can only be generously classified as outsiders.

He was certainly elected to “shake up” Washington.  But Washington isn’t going to welcome change.  The same is true with the rest of the world.

So here’s my list of the challenges that Trump is going to have to navigate to survive his first term and get re-elected in 2020.

China, Russia, Iran, Israel, and ISIS

The One China policy has allowed Taiwan and China to peacefully coexist for decades.  Trump upset that policy with one phone call.  China’s response was to grab some of our stuff.  Escalation is not a good formula here.  Trump is already talking about killing the TPP.  That agreement was crafted to provide the other Pacific Rim countries an alternative to accepting China’s trading rules.  If China controls the rules of trade in the Pacific, they will also have tremendous economic leverage over those countries.  That will make it more difficult for the US to oppose Chinese aggression in the region.  What will Trump do if China threatens Taiwan?

It would be great to have better relations with Russia.  But Russia has been aggressively expanding its sphere of influence in border countries by intervening in their elections and annexing territory.  What is Trump going to be willing to give (or take away from) Russia that will cause them to change their behavior?  Trump is in dangerous territory if it turns out that there were contacts between his campaign and Russian hacking during the election.  Trump is also in dangerous territory if ongoing Russian hacking expose the inner workings of the Trump administration in the same ways that it exposed the inner workings of the Clinton campaign.  What leverage does this give Russia?  Russian reactions to the assassination in Turkey could lead to a military escalation early in Trump’s administration.  Turkey is our NATO ally.  How will the Trump administration respond?  Trump also has real estate holdings in Turkey.  How will Trump respond to actions that threaten some of his properties?

Trump has said that he will move the US embassy to Jerusalem.  That move would signal the end of any two-state solution.  It will also give Israel free reign to continue their economic and military persecution of Palestinians.  How will the Trump administration respond to an Israeli crack down on a Palestinian uprising that resulted in a large number of Palestinians being killed?  How will a Trump administration respond to an increase in military actions by Israel’s neighbors in reaction to a brutal military crackdown of a Palestinian uprising?

That leads naturally to Iran.  Israel has every right to fear Iran, and Iran has every right to fear both Israel and the US.  Iraq used to be the balance to Iran, but our invasion of Iraq upset that balance and caused Iran to start their nuclear weapons program.  They’ve stopped that development because of their interest in joining the global economy.  But if Trump figures he can get a better deal and is also seen as a close ally of Israel, this whole deal could come apart.  What will Trump do to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?  What will Russia, Iran’s close ally, do if the US or Israel take some aggressive action against Iran because of their resumed nuclear program?

ISIS will continue to attack around the world.  He has been curiously silent, for example, after the Berlin attack.  After Trump’s inauguration, I predict that his named properties will become targets.  This isn’t planned, but random.  How is Trump going to respond?  The reality is that there is little he can do.  He can attempt to bomb them, but if anything that will only increase the domestic terrorism that is now the bulk of ISIS action.  He will fail to be effective and ultimately voters will hold him responsible.

Conflict of Interest, Deal Making, Obamacare, Infrastructure, Tax Reform, and Republicans

Trump has a serious conflict of interest problem.  There are no indications that he is going to take steps to effectively insulate his business and his family from the potential benefits that would accrue to those businesses from his office.  Even worse, he also needs to insulate himself from the APPEARANCE of conflict regarding foreign contributions.  Just one example is the fact that he owns hotels.  Every time someone employed by a foreign government stays in one of his hotels, he is in potential violation of the constitution.  Congress and the American people will let him slide for a while, but he is taking grave risks against some future event that will paint him as corrupt.  I’m not sure how many of those events he is going to be able to survive, since he was elected to clean up the corruption.

Deal making is also going to be very difficult for him because that’s not how government business is done.  Deals are done politically, not financially.  It is ok to trade influence.  It is not ok to trade money.  There are a large body of regulations which prohibit favoritism in government contracting.  Trump could easily run afoul of these laws in his attempts to personally negotiate the country’s business.  The difference here is that, rather than a political backlash, he will get sued by whatever corporations felt that they were disadvantaged by one of Trump’s deals.  How many of those suits will have to occur before Congress decides that they have had enough?

It is going to be very difficult to replace Obamacare.  Collin Powell famously said of Iraq, “if you break it, you own it.”  The same is true of Obamacare.  If Republicans repeal it without a plan to replace it, even if that repeal is delayed until after the 2018 elections, the exchange structure could easily collapse.  If that happens, millions of people will either lose their insurance, or see their premiums rise dramatically.  This could easily turn into a daily drip-drip-drip of bad news, much like the financial collapse of 2008.  That bad news and the inability of the Trump administration to do anything about it, will result in a big 2018 backlash and the beginning of the end for Trump.  He will say that he did what the voters elected him to do, but voters are going to blame him because he promised to make it better.

Trump hired a budget hawk for his OMB director.  This budget hawk is going to have to figure out how to fund the massive infrastructure bill that is the foundation for Trump’s jobs program.  It is going to be very interesting to see how this plays out.  The infrastructure bank idea is an invitation to crony capitalism and will only work in big urban areas where investors have an opportunity to monetize their projects.  It isn’t going to help those vast under served rural areas where many Trump voters live.  The cuts to other federal spending that would be required to pay for this, if it isn’t financed through debt, will result in MORE job loss and hardship for those rural voters rather than less.  Their life will get harder, unemployment will go up, and they will vote for a different change in 2018 and 2020.

Tax Reform will be another give away to the rich.  This may turn out to be the least controversial of the programs that Trump takes on.  But it is also fraught with danger for Trump.  If Trump voters weren’t already sensitive to a cabinet filled with billionaires all getting big tax cuts, they will be.  If Trump hasn’t divested himself from his businesses, you can bet that the benefits that his family gets from Tax reform will be front page news and Trump’s hypocrisies will dominate social media.

Republicans are the most interesting piece of this puzzle.  Just as they rallied around Trump as it became obvious that he was going to win, they will abandon him if he appears to falter.  They will determine if they can mold him in their image.  When that fails, they will see if they can maneuver him politically to carry out their agenda.  When that fails, they will see if they can trip him up and get him out of the way, so that they can replace his agenda with theirs.

Summary

I will be surprised to see Trump complete his term.  I think that foreign intrigue will reveal his fundamental weaknesses and terrify voters.  Hopefully, we will avoid a conflict.  If not, it will go badly.  If he avoids foreign conflict, he will fumble Obamacare and the repercussions will cost him at least his senate majority in 2018.  The house will eventually impeach him for conflicts of interest and the post 2018 senate will confirm that impeachment making him the third president to go through an impeachment trial, and only the second one to lose.

I would prefer that this not be the script for the next four years, but Trump is sowing the seeds of his own destruction as we speak.  He is not taking the steps to insulate himself from potential conflicts of interest.  He is secretive and combative rather than transparent.  He trusts in his own ability to communicate with the public directly, but the public will soon be able to see for themselves whether the results match his promises.  He is picking fights with his intelligence agencies which makes him even more vulnerable to bad information.  His cabinet of outsiders will likely agree with him rather than oppose him.

We will face a challenge as a country too.  That’s because Trump will try to blame his failures on others.  We have to be vigilant to prevent Trump and his followers from using domestic turmoil to distract us from his administration’s failures.  He should have every opportunity to prove me wrong, but if he fails, he alone should be held responsible for the consequences of his failures.

 

Trump’s Swamp Fever

November 13th, 2016

swamp-1

One of Trump’s closing arguments was his promise to “drain the swamp”.

Less than a week after winning the election in dramatic fashion and preparing to move into the White House, he appears to have caught a serious case of swamp fever.

He may have been infected from the whole set of Washington insiders that he has invited to help him plan the transition.

He may have caught it from President Obama himself. After what he described as very cordial meeting for which he appeared genuinely grateful, he described Obama as a very good man.

That wall that he promised to build on day one? Newt Gingrich admitted that Trump probably can’t get Mexico to pay for the wall, but that it was a “great campaign device”.

Instead of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, in an exclusive interview with the WSJ, Trump said, “It’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought, because I want to solve health care, jobs, border control, tax reform.”

Instead of making the repeal of Obamacare his first priority, instead he is talking about a series of amendments to improve it.

Oh and that Iran nuclear deal, one of the worst deals in the history of the world? He kinda likes it. He’s going to talk with the Iranians about a couple of his concerns, but he isn’t going to tear it up.

Moving or embassy to Jerusalem (a big issue for Sheldon Adelson)? Trump’s campaign said that any move would come only after there was a consensus by all parties. The Palestinians have been and are seriously opposed to the move.

That waterboarding stuff? Mike Rodgers representing the Trump campaign said it was just “campaign talk”.

Instead of supporting Paul Ryan’s call to privatize Medicare and Social Security, Trump has been curiously quiet.

Those mass deportations? They are history too. Instead Trump has said he is only going to deport those illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes. This is pretty much what the Obama administration has been doing for the past 8 years.

Those nasty late night tweets? Even they appear to have moderated. After sharply criticizing the #notmypresident demonstrations, he quickly released another tweet celebrating their passion and their right to express their opinion.

What happened to this guy?

Who kidnapped Donald Trump and replaced him with a thoughtful moderate?

Here’s my take.

We already know that he is not an ideologue and his main principle appears to be his own self-interest.

What we may be discovering is that he is more of a narcissistic Zelig chameleon than anyone thought.

We also may be discovering that he understands that he has to start working now to win the midterm elections in two years. Those who didn’t vote for him are just waiting for his first misstep to turn the next two years into an Occupy Washington protest.

We are now 7 years into this economic expansion cycle. We are starting to see some inflation and finally a little wage growth. We are well overdue for a recession.

The best thing that Trump could do to protect his Congressional majorities in 2018 is pump a lot of money into the economy as quickly as possible in the form of infrastructure improvements. We know from Obama’s attempts to do the same thing on a MUCH smaller scale that it takes a while to get this going. Obama may have warned Trump about how long it will take to get anything done in Washington. We also know that big spending bills provide plenty of opportunities for back seat driving and second guessing. The last thing Trump needs is a fight over this. The best way to get spending bill passed quickly is to make sure that the Democrats are on board too. He may need their help to overcome the fiscal conservatives and small government ideologues that still dominate his party.

By narrowing his focus to jobs, securing the boarder, amending Obamacare, and passing his tax plan; he can gain enough good will with the public to gain a little momentum. If he can find a way to work with the Democrats rather than poking them in the eye, he can continue to keep the Republican establishment off balance. Perhaps Obama also warned him that the Republicans in Washington are not his friends.

Since he doesn’t have the votes to over override a Senate veto, he would be wise to take small steps that will make it through the Senate. Otherwise, he runs the risk of the Democrats running out the clock on his first two years in much the same way that Republicans tied up Obama.

If he can find a way to get government working again by pivoting to the center, while still retaining the support of his base, he may prove to be a better politician than anyone imagined. If so, it may turn out that swamp fever isn’t so bad after all. If, however, this is really honeymoon fever, and the old combative Trump returns, it could be a bumpy two years.

 

Libertarians Big Fail

November 4th, 2016

If there were ever an election year when the Libertarian Party could make significant gains, this is the year.

The Bernie Sanders campaign caught fire and inspired a new generation of young people and rallied a cohort of progressives frustrated with eight years of cautious Obama politics.

Many of Bernie’s most ardent supporters were looking for a new champion when Bernie failed to win the nomination.

Donald Trump’s xenophobic populism abandoned traditional Republicans and their concerns about fiscal conservatism and government overreach.

The contest between Clinton and Trump quickly became a personality referendum. Issues took a back seat to an endless cycle of school-yard taunts, shocking revelations of personal weakness, and a deeply disturbing lord of the flies “kill the pig” frenzy.

Libertarianism had the perfect opportunity to assert its simple philosophy that people are perfectly able to make their own decisions and better decisions will be made if people are allowed to experience the consequences of their actions.

This also applies to governments. The world would be a better place, libertarians contend, if governments were less concerned with individual rights and more concerned with national defense.

So why is the Libertarian Party polling at less than 5% of the total vote?

My sense is that when push came to shove, the libertarian faithful including big money sources like David Koch, failed the Trump test.

Trump successfully turned this election into a reality show. Clinton became the villain. Trump became his own hero. His whole campaign is an effort to fan the flames of tribalism by drawing clear lines between us and them. Facts took a beating as every event was re-interpreted within the context of how “they” were biased, crooked, and untrustworthy and “we” were the only choice to save the nation from “them”.

The media, every established political party, the Clinton campaign, and the public have been challenged to respond.

The Libertarians had the opportunity to demonstrate that their philosophy was a better way.

Instead, their leaders and their followers could not resist the temptation to participate in this personality contest in hopes of attracting those who claimed that they disliked BOTH Trump and Clinton.

The issues with Clinton and the FBI are a perfect example. Early on both Johnson and Weld agreed with the FBI’s recommendation not to prosecute. This was consistent with the philosophy that individuals are smart enough to make their own decisions and don’t need government’s help. But when the FBI reopened the investigation, Weld was the only one who continued to stand on principle suggesting the FBI was “off the reservation”. Johnson followed Trump’s line in an effort to pick up some disheartened Clinton supporters. Weld on the other hand received the full wrath of the libertarian faithful.

On social media sites it is hard to distinguish the Trump trolls from the libertarian trolls when it comes to flaming anti-Clinton posts.

The challenge libertarians have always had is walking the talk.

Here’s a classic example from a book by a behavioral economist. The University of Chicago is a bastion of libertarian economists. Milton Friedman was their leader. When the University built a new office building for the economics faulty, there was the obvious challenge of how to allocate office space. Rather than setup a marketplace which would have resolved the issue using the principles that each of these academics spent a lifetime promoting, they essentially appointed a bureaucrat. He created a formula based on things like tenure, seniority, and individual contributions to the institution. That same person then applied the formula in a controlled fashion in an effort to reduce conflict. At the moment when these leaders of libertarian thought could actually put their theories to the test in their own lives, they trusted a government solution.

There are a lot of voters in this election cycle looking for a better choice. Libertarianism failed to gain their votes because libertarians lost track of their major asset which is their simple set of principles. Instead of demonstrating how principles can overcome tribalism, they became just as tribal, just as intolerant, and just as opportunistic as everyone else.

The Three Ironies of Trump

October 14th, 2016

double-standards-illo

Trump has been talking about Bill Clinton’s infidelities and his alleged predation of women since the start of his campaign.

After his poor showing in the first debate, he brought it up again. He promised to respond to Clinton’s use of a former Miss Universe with a no-holds-barred expose on Bill Clinton’s history.

Then the famous “lewd” tape broke which caused him to double-down on his attack on Hillary in an effort to deflect attention away from his outrageous statements.

Prior to the debate, Trump had a Facebook live event featuring three women who claimed they had been assaulted, or in one case raped, by Bill Clinton. There was also a fourth woman who blamed Hillary for defending the man who raped her when she was 12.

Trump made a big deal of the treatment that these women had received from the Clinton’s in particular and the media in general.

At the debate, Trump said that his claims of sexual assault was just talk. He said had never assaulted anyone. That wasn’t the best answer because it simply invited women to report their past experiences with Trump. This past week we’ve seen the count of women reporting Trump assaults rise to 10. The famous Hollywood feminist attorney, Gloria Allred, is now involved. She issued a public offer to take the cases of any other women who were victims of Trump’s assaults. We can probably expect the list of assault claims to grow daily pretty much up through the election.

Fact-Check Fatigue
Trump has said he was going to publicize information which would support his claims of innocence. But the sheer number of women coming forward is going to make it difficult for his “fact checking” to keep up. The first irony is that at least in this case, Trump is suffering from the same fact-check fatigue that has been a basic part of his strategy. The sheer volume of his lies has made it difficult for the fact-checkers and the public to keep up. Now he is faced with exactly the same challenge.

The Real Bill Cosby
Trump’s campaign manager predicted they were going to turn Bill Clinton into Bill Cosby. They were successful in attracting the attention of the attorney who helped make the case against Bill Cosby. The second irony is that Gloria Allred plans to make her case against Donald Trump.

The Real Donald Trump
The final irony is Trump’s response his accusers.

He attacked them with fury and intensity.

These vicious claims about me of inappropriate conduct with women are totally and absolutely false. … They’re pure fiction, and they’re outright lies. These events never, ever happened and the people said them meekly, fully understand. You take a look at these people, you study these people, and you’ll understand also. The claims are preposterous, ludicrous and defy truth, common sense and logic. We already have substantial evidence to dispute these lies, and it will be made public in an appropriate way and at an appropriate time very soon. …

Last night we hear that after 12 years — this took place 12 years ago, this story — a new claim that I made inappropriate advances during the interview to this writer [Stoynoff, reporting for People magazine] and I asked a very simple question: Why wasn’t it part of the story that appeared 12 years ago? … These people are horrible people. They’re horrible, horrible liars. And interestingly, it happens to appear 26 days before our very important election, isn’t that amazing?

On the other hand, here’s how Trump described his rescue of the women who accused Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton’s accusers “have been trying to get their feelings out for so long, and the media wouldn’t take it. One thing with me, the media takes it. Whatever. So they were able to get what they wanted to get out. To quote Juanita Broaddrick, ‘Hillary Clinton threatened me after Bill Clinton raped me.’ She’s been struggling to get the media to pay attention to her for many, many years. So last night, I decided we would expose the hypocrisy of the Clintons and the media and our politicians to the entire world.”

And from the Wash Post.

For most of this past week, Trump advocated for accusers of Bill Clinton. He said it was “very beautiful and very sad” to hear their stories. He blamed Hillary Clinton for attacking the women and discrediting them — even though her criticism was directed toward the “vast right-wing conspiracy” by Republicans, whom she said started rumors about Lewinsky, rather than against Lewinsky herself. He made no reference to how the allegations were made in the 1990s, or that some of the alleged attacks date as far back as four decades — and that the women waited years to make their claims.

This past week, Trump faced exactly the same situation that Bill and Hillary faced in 1998. Women from years ago started making embarrassing claims about past behavior and directly contradicting his public claim that he had not engaged in the behavior he had described on tape.

How did Trump react?

Similar to Hillary Clinton, he blamed a vast left wing conspiracy. That conspiracy included the “Clinton machine”, the New York Times, and the Mexican telecommunications billionaire Carlos Slim who happens to have an investment in the New York Times. He said “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special-interest friends and her donors.”

Unlike Clinton, he attacked the media for printing these claims. This is the same media that he had previously attacked for NOT giving the Clinton accusers sufficient attention.

Unlike Clinton, he personally and publicly attacked the honesty of all of his accusers calling them “horrible, horrible liars”.

Unlike Clinton, he threatened legal action.

Unlike Clinton, he suggested that some of these women were lying because they weren’t sufficiently attractive for him to consider assaulting them.

Unlike Clinton, he questioned why these women had not come forward sooner.

The answer to the last question is obvious. Why would any woman want to subject herself to this sort of public abuse after already being the victim of such private assault? The reason, over and over again, that these women have shared for overcoming their fear is that Trump’s denial on national TV was the last straw.

It should also be the last straw for any thoughtful person. Whether these women are telling the truth or not does not justify the treatment that they received. This behavior is NOT NORMAL. It is not acceptable. This is not the sort of behavior that gets rewarded with a trip to the White House. This is the sort of behavior that must be repudiated in a dramatic and public way. Trump’s loss must be a bold and bright warning to every person who even considers sexual assault.

Sexual assault is not acceptable under any circumstances. Not at home. Not at work. Not at the bar. Not on an airplane. Nowhere. Never.

Shaming the victim is also not acceptable. We have an innocent until proven guilty legal system, but proof in the court of public opinion should not fall on the victim.

This now becomes another test for those who contemplate a public career. They have to make sure that aren’t women in their past. If there are, they must first make it right before asking for anyone else’s vote.

If that’s what comes of this election. If that is the lasting legacy of electing the first woman president. If this is the reward the nation receives in return for enduring Trump’s candidacy, then maybe it was worth it.

Trump Couldn’t Care Less

October 11th, 2016

gop_2016_trump-jpeg-0dacf_c0-112-4666-2832_s885x516

By now everyone on earth knows that Trump sometimes behaves like a pubescent middle school jerk.

His excuse is that this sort of stuff goes on in places where men gather all the time. As a man who has spent a lot of time in locker rooms from my youth to the present day, I can testify that many men tire of these conversations as we grow older. About the time that we become parents or uncles, we appreciate the hurt that objectification can cause. We choose not to associate with those men who remain focused on their own desires. We certainly don’t encourage it, as Billy Bush did. But some men never grow up. Trump appears to be one. The significant difference is that 12-year old boys are talking about what they would like to do. 70-year old billionaire celebrities have the power to live out their adolescent fantasies.

He said it was all talk. No harm was done. He didn’t actually do any of the things that he claimed he did on that video. He admitted that it was a mistake. He asked voters to forgive him and move on.

What moving on in this case means is criticizing perhaps the highest profile woman in US politics today who happens to be his opponent — Hillary Clinton.

The primary point of attack is Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State. This particular incident has been thoroughly investigated by both the Congress and the FBI. No charges were filed. Clinton admitted that it was a mistake. She said that no harm was done to anyone. She apologized for her mistake and has asked voters to move on.

Trump has built his campaign on the claim that Clinton did something illegal.Unbiased fact checkers dispute that claim. So I’m not going to dwell on the details of his false claims. They appear to motivate his base and they certainly are doing damage to the whole political process.

Hopefully the hypocrisy of these similar requests for forgiveness is obvious.

But there is more here that needs to be discussed.

That’s the claim against Clinton that her email use was an arrogant disregard for the law. That perceived arrogance is what fuels the deep distrust and even hatred of many Trump supporters.

Trump’s claims regarding this tape, whether true or not, also reveal an arrogant disregard not only for the law, but also for the dignity and respect that all women deserve just because of our common humanity.

Trump blames his actions on the way that beautiful women make HIM feel. He can’t resist the urge to go up and kiss them. What’s worse, there are many documented incidents where he has done just that. He has a pattern. People with OCD who also struggle with impulse control have behaviors that they repeat over and over again. Trump’s pattern involves consuming a breath mint so that his breath will not offend prior to “stealing” a kiss. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that it isn’t his breath that is offensive. It’s his assumption that every woman would welcome that sort of unsolicited embrace. This is the core of his arrogance. He can’t imagine why a woman would object.

He feels that his process of rating women based on their appearance is a complement to those at the top of his scale. He fancies himself as a connoisseur of beauty. But if a woman fails his test, or worse yet, objects to being treated that way, then he feels entitled to demean her in every way imaginable. Worse, he feels no remorse because, in his own words, they deserved it. They deserve it for their failure to “take care of themselves”, or their gall to reject him.

Some of his comments about groping women reveal another dimension to his delusion. Women allow themselves to be groped because he is powerful.

In Trump’s mind, his ability to assault them without consequence is part the privilege that he has earned as a star and a billionaire. Even if this were true, and women did allow those with that sort of power to fondle them without complaint — what sort of man would take advantage of this power?

That’s the difference between Trump and Clinton.

Clinton has used her power and position to protect her private life from those who would seek to use that information to attack her. She uses her power to defend herself and her family from powerful men like Trump who have attacked her from her earliest days in politics. As the first woman to be nominated by a major party for the most powerful political office in the country, she has had to confront sexism her whole life. Her success can in part be attributed to her willingness to acquire and use the power that she needs to accomplish her ambitions. Trump’s supporters admire his unbridled ambition. Unfortunately, an ambitious powerful woman is still feared by many in our country.

Trump has used his power for self-gratification. He doesn’t appear to have any concerns about how his actions affect others. I suspect he equates empathy with weakness. He celebrates his ability to prey on beautiful women because it supports his basic narcissism. When asked by Howard Stern about how he satisfies all of the women that he sleeps with, Trump said “I couldn’t care less”.

Trump’s Twilight Zone

October 4th, 2016

 

This has been a remarkable week or so in a remarkable campaign. There appears to be another dimension that the Trump campaign and their supporters live in. It’s the twilight zone where belief trumps fact and reality is defined by the campaign and the candidate.

Exhibit 1 — Who won the debate?

This one is easy on several different levels.

The debate happened. Reputable organizations polled the public using scientific methods. They reported the results of those polls. They all indicated that Clinton won by a wide margin.

The second measurement is what happened to the polls after the debate. Again Clinton’s polling numbers have gone up and her prospects for winning the election have improved. That improvement was directly related to her debate performance and the actions of the Trump campaign following the debate.

To hear it from the Trump campaign’s perspective, he won the debate because a number of online unscientific polls on conservative sites said he was the winner.

Any problem with the debate was the result of a bad microphone that affected sound in the auditorium. Then there was the moderator who attempted to fact check Trump. And of course there is the crooked media who are now operating as an arm of the Clinton campaign in attempting to report the facts on the ground.

Perhaps this approach makes some sense in perpetuating the “us versus them” meme that is at the heart of the Trump campaign. The problem is that this meme makes it very difficult for the Trump campaign to recruit any new voters. When anyone who isn’t with you is your enemy, how are you going to convince some of those that you have been treating as enemies that they should change their minds?

Exhibit 2 — I did not have sex with that woman. Oops sorry, I meant to type I opposed the Iraq War.

This was one of the key moments in the debate.

Trump has made this particular position his Big Lie. He insists that he was against the war in Iraq FROM THE START.

The fact is that in answer to Howard Stern’s question “Are you for invading Iraq?”, he said, “Yeah, I guess so.” That isn’t a hearty endorsement of the invasion, but it is clearly not opposition either. He also provided an equivocal answer to Neil Cavuto, “it’s sort like either do it or don’t do it.” Trump clearly was not a supporter, but he also was not the opponent FROM THE START that he claims.

In the debate, he doubled down by attacking the media for reporting the facts (again) and then suggested that the moderator give Sean Hannity a call. While they may have had private conversations, there is no public record of it. Since Sean Hannity is now an official advisor to the campaign, he is hardly a reliable reference to past private history.

The result is that many Trump supporters now question whether fact-checkers can be trusted rather than admit that Trump was again making stuff up.

Exhibit 3 — Trump loves women

Hillary Clinton set several traps in the debate and Trump fell into most of them.

The Alicia Machado trap was a public confirmation of two of Clinton’s basic claims. Trump is unstable and Trump mistreats women. In front of a national audience he not only admitted to attacking Rosie O’Donnell, but said that she deserved it. He continued to attack Machado after the debate suggesting that she deserved the treatment that she received because she gained weight. This caused a whole avalanche of new information about Trump’s past statements and behavior with other women including many of those who were involved with The Apprentice show.

Trump and his campaign have reacted by attacking both Bill and Hillary Clinton for their treatment of women who have claimed past relationships with Bill.

Women represent a substantial swing vote in this country. Trump is doing himself no favors by perpetuating his attack on Machado and attempting to drag around old news about Hillary and Bill.

Those old white men who are the core of Trump’s support appear to have no problem with either Trump’s past history or his current aggressive response any time a woman criticizes him.

Exhibit 4 — Trump and taxes

We finally found out that Trump lost a lot of money in the 90’s and may have used those losses to shelter roughly $1B in income.

Trump and his campaign have not disputed those figures. Instead they have tried to spin Trump as a savvy business man who is an expert in tax law and will fix the tax system that he took advantage of.

This fails to answer the basic question that many people have regarding Trump’s loss. How does a savvy business man manage to lose $1B. His weak defense is that it was a tough time and many people were losing money. So does that mean his business skills are going to be effective only in good times? In bad times he is going to lose money just like everyone else?

His debate comment that he was “smart” not to pay taxes is also losing him blue collar votes. His campaign has gone further by suggesting that he does pay a lot of other taxes. But that’s not the issue. Everyone else also pays all of those other taxes too. The issue is how does he support his populist stand when he pays no federal income tax? It isn’t a question of whether or not he has done anything illegal. It is the fact that he IS part of that .1% who have benefited at the expense of working people. So it is curious that some of those very same working people still trust him.

Trump and his campaign have been trying to cast the NYT as the culprit by releasing the documents. The reality is that he could have avoided this by releasing his tax returns as every other candidate has done for the past 50 years. The NYT has a responsibility to its readers to provide them all of the information that they need in order to make an informed choice. They are doing their job. Trump isn’t.

Trump supporters believe that the tax returns aren’t important. Clearly that’s not the case with the rest of the country.

Exhibit 5 — Trump and OPM (other people’s money)

The Trump Foundation may turn out to be the smoking gun, at least from a financial point of view, that Trump opponents have been looking for.

Trump already had to pay a fine because of a “contribution” that was made “in error” from the foundation to the Florida AG Bondi’s political campaign shortly before she declined to participate in the Trump University lawsuit.

Now it turns out that Trump hasn’t contributed to his own foundation for a decade. Instead he has used other people’s money. Why did those people contribute that money? Turns out that most of those contributions were directly connected to business dealings that Trump had. The contributions were NOT because of the charitable mission of the foundation.

We also learned that Trump used the foundation like a piggy bank to pay personal expenses to the tune of $250K.

Now we also have learned that Trump not only used the foundation to pay his personal bills, he also used his foundation to purchase speaking engagements at various conservative gatherings over the past six years. These speaking engagements were the start of his presidential campaign.

Finally, the NY AG confirmed that the foundation was operating illegally in taking contributions from third parties when they were licensed to only distribute family money. Until the foundation resolves those issues and provides more detailed reports on past activities, they are effectively out of business.

Trump and his campaign have not denied any of these claims. Instead they have said that Trump contributes millions of dollars of his own money to charity in addition to the money that comes from his foundation. They also say that the foundation is a volunteer organization that can’t be expected to get everything right. Finally, they are suggesting that the NY AG actions are just partisan politics.

But there is big difference between making a mistake and the pattern of behavior that the NYT and Real Clear Politics have discovered. If Trump is in fact the tax genius that he claims to be, he should have known about foundation tax rules too. If he did, then he knew what he was doing was illegal “self-dealing”. If he didn’t know, then perhaps he isn’t really the genius that he claims to be, and won’t be able to single-handedly rewrite the tax code.

Trump supporters don’t want to talk about the Trump foundation. They only want to talk about the Clinton foundation and how she brazenly “sold” influence during her time in the State department to big Clinton foundation donors. The problem is that they have failed to connect the dots between this supposed influence peddling and some evidence of personal enrichment. Even if she did provide special access to big donors, all that money went to charitable purposes that have all been documented and are easy to track. There is no evidence that any of the Clinton’s benefited from those donations in any personal way. Unfortunately the bias is so strong, that in the absence of evidence, suspicion is sufficient to convict Clinton in the minds of these voters.

Summary

The one thing that Trump is VERY good at is stoking the fears and supporting the biases of his voters. His success in branding his opponents from Low Energy Jeb to Crooked Hillary is at the core of his campaign’s remarkable showing.

His populist message combined with his caustic “take no prisoners admit no weaknesses” style appeals to disenfranchised and marginalized groups of voters. Ben White from Politico best summarized it.

The GOP nominee could probably set himself on fire and still count on around 40 percent of the electorate to support him.

Those 40% are content to live in the twilight zone that Trump and the right wing media have built for them. It works. They are less fearful. They are more optimistic. They feel justified that the evil doers are finally being held accountable. They feel part of a winning team.

The problem is that it is a fantasy. It is not real.

Hopefully the rest of the voting public will decline the invitation to join them.

 

Trump – a Joker, a Welsher, and a Crook

September 20th, 2016

trumpchump161618_600-540x382

Donald Trump nearly went personally bankrupt in the early 90’s as his casino empire collapsed.  Bankers forced him to give up his majority holdings in four properties, sell his yacht, and his airline.

He rebuilt his casino/real estate empire only to see it collapse again in 2004 and 2009.  As part of the 2004 bankruptcy, Deutsche Bank revealed that they had loaned Trump’s company $40M backed by his personal guarantee that included his own estimate that he was worth $3.5B.  The bank and the court discovered that he was only worth $788M.  He later defaulted on that loan and sued the bank. They settled in 2010 with Trump getting a 5 year extension to pay back the loan.  It is unclear whether than obligation was satisfied, but the bank has provided Trump other loans since.

What’s important about these timelines is that Trump’s business model changed in 2004 when he started a new business as a celebrity on the long running Apprentice series.  Trump reported that NBC paid him more than $200M over 14 seasons to appear on the show.  NBC said multiple times that those figures were “grossly inaccurate and … significantly overstated”.  But this was only one of the whole host of celebrity endorsements that Trump was making.  The problem is that celebrity endorsements simply don’t bring in the same cash that real estate does, but they also don’t require nearly the same amount of upfront cash.  So it appears that Trump began to suffer from a cash flow short fall between the costs of his lifestyle (needed to support his endorsement business) and the income that lifestyle was generating.

He did the same thing most every other family in the country does when that happens.  He took some money out of the piggy bank.  In this case the piggy bank was his personal foundation.

The Washington Post recently documented that he withdrew roughly $258M from his charitable foundation to pay his own personal bills.

Now you might say that this was his own money, after all, and he should be able to do whatever he wants with it, but that’s not how charitable foundations work.  Trump got a tax deduction for the money that he donated to this charity.  Taking money back out to pay his own expenses constitutes fraud and violates federal rules against “self-dealing”.

To make matters worse, he wasn’t even taking out his own money.  He had pretty much run his foundation dry of his own money by 2006, leaving it with just $4,238 at year’s end, according to tax records.  He made small donations in 2007 and 2008.  Everything after that was other people’s money.  Other people who were making donations to his charity in order to ingratiate themselves to him.

Hillary Clinton has been accused of selling access to the State Department in return for large donations to her family’s charity.  The difference is that the Clinton foundation used those donations to fight AIDs.  The Trump foundation used access to Trump to secure large donations, but then used some of that money to pay Trump’s bills.

Here’s how he used that money.

In 2007, he settled a dispute with Palm Beach over the size of a flagpole at his Mar-a-Lago Club.  The original unpaid fines for the zoning violation totaled $120,000.  Trump settled with the city by offering to make a $100,000 donation to a veteran’s charity.  Rather than write the check, the donation came from his charity.

In another case in 2010, Trump was offering a $1M prize during a charity golf outing at a Trump golf course for anyone who had a hole in one.  Martin Greenberg won the prize.  The small print on the rules said that the golf ball had to travel at least 150 yards.  The hole where this challenge was set up was deliberately less than that.  Greenberg sued Trump’s club, the charity of former NBA star Alonzo Mourning, which was also hosting the tournament, as well as the insurance company that had underwritten the prize.

Eventually, Trump’s club and Greenberg settled the case, with the course agreeing to donate $158,000 to a charity chosen by Greenberg.  Trump paid that bill using foundation money.

In 2013, the foundation purchased $5,000 advertising for his hotels in programs for three events organized by a D.C. preservation group.  In 2014, Trump paid for a portrait of himself purchased at a charity auction with $10,000 of foundation money.  This is reminiscent of a similar $20,000 purchase of a portrait in 2007 that he also made with foundation money.

The bottom line is that this is all illegal.

“I represent 700 nonprofits a year, and I’ve never encountered anything so brazen,” said Jeffrey Tenenbaum, who advises charities at the Venable law firm in Washington. After The Post described the details of these Trump Foundation gifts, Tenenbaum described them as “really shocking.”

“If he’s using other people’s money — run through his foundation — to satisfy his personal obligations, then that’s about as blatant an example of self-dealing [as] I’ve seen in a while,” Tenenbaum said.

 

The real question is if this guy is as wealthy as he said he was and as generous as he said he was, why didn’t he just pay these bills out of his own pocket?  Why would he take the risk of breaking IRS rules for what to him should have been pocket change?

You can ask the same question regarding the $25,000 donation that the foundation made to the Bondi campaign just before the Florida AG dropped her plans to bring legal action against Trump University.  That donation was also illegal.  It should also have been easy from Trump to write the check himself.  He didn’t.

There are only two answers.

  1. He is pathological and this was an obsession that he simply couldn’t control.
  2. He didn’t have the money and this was the only way that he could cover those expenses.

In either case, it is just another example of why this person is uniquely deceptive and wholly unsuited for the office that he is seeking.