Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Harvey vs. Sandy

Not that anyone should begrudge giving as much help as possible to the people of Texas, but it is interesting to see how much the Republicans from Texas who voted against aid for recovery from Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast in 2013 now want a blank check from the federal government for recovery from Harvey.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Annals Of Irony — Road to Rome Edition

Via CNN, we learn that Calista Gingrich, the wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, is on track to be named the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

The White House hopes to announce her nomination before President Donald Trump meets with Pope Francis on May 24 in Rome.

The decision to nominate Gingrich has been made, but the announcement has taken longer than expected pending approval from the Office of Government Ethics, an administration official said.

The White House hopes to formally nominate Gingrich as soon as this week.

Gingrich is a devout Catholic, telling the Christian Broadcasting Network in a 2011 interview that she has “always been a very spiritual person.”

Was she “very spiritual” before, during, or after she was carrying on an affair with Mr. Gingrich while he was impeaching Bill Clinton and at the same time divorcing his second wife so he could hook up with her permanently?

Hey, “let he who is without sin” and all that, but I would think the Vatican would have at least some kind of standard for who other countries send as official representatives.  Then again, a hypocritical adulterer and right-wing vocalist pretty much sums up the administration that is sending her.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Keen Observation

Melissa McEwan at Shakesville on people giving former President Obama grief for taking a $400,000 speaking fee for a speech to Wall Street denizens, much as they did to Hillary Clinton.

…most of the commentators who are taking issue with these speaking fees never seemed to have a problem with them until it was a woman and a Black man collecting them.

Funny how that works.

Monday, April 17, 2017

If You Can Fake Sincerity…

Ross Douthat tells liberals is time to go back to church even if they don’t believe in God.

Do it for your political philosophy: More religion would make liberalism more intellectually coherent (the “created” in “created equal” is there for a reason), more politically effective, more rooted in its own history, less of a congerie of suspicious “allies” and more of an actual fraternity.

Do it for your friends and neighbors, town and cities: Thriving congregations have spillover effects that even anti-Trump marches can’t match.

Do it for your family: Church is good for health and happiness, it’s a better place to meet a mate than Tinder, and even its most modernized form is still an ark of memory, a link between the living and the dead.

I understand that there’s the minor problem of actual belief. But honestly, dear liberals, many of you do believe in the kind of open Gospel that a lot of mainline churches preach.

If pressed, most of you aren’t hard-core atheists: You pursue religious experiences, you have affinities for Unitarianism or Quakerism, you can even appreciate Christian orthodoxy when it’s woven into Marilynne Robinson novels or the “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

You say you’re spiritual but not religious because you associate “religion” with hierarchies and dogmas and strict rules about sex. But the Protestant mainline has gone well out of its way to accommodate you on all these points.

[…]

Finally, a brief word to the really hardened atheists: Oh, come on. Sure, all that beauty and ecstasy and astonishing mathematical order is because we’re part of a multiverse or a simulation or something; that’s the ticket. Sure, consciousness and free will are illusions, but human rights and gender identities are totally real. Sure, your flying spaghetti monster joke makes you a lot smarter than Aquinas, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King. Sure.

Just go to church, guys. The mainline churches’ doors are open. They need you; America still needs them.

In other words, be like a lot of right-wingers and become a complete and certified hypocrite just for the sake of appearances.  This is after assuming that a lot of liberals don’t go to church or participate in a faith community because they don’t wear it on their sleeves or their trucker hats.

As for his snarky swipe at atheism, please explain to me why the Flying Spaghetti Monster story is any less plausible than the one about two naked people and the talking snake.

It sounds like Mr. Douthat is less interested in saving liberal souls than he is in keeping the mainline churches out of the hands of the hard-core evangelicals (they’re so tacky) and the politicians who know a flock of pigeons when they see them.  He might have better luck if his fellow conservatives hadn’t fed them in the first place.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Trump v. Trump

Back in 2013, President Obama had to decide whether or not to send military forces to Syria to defeat the Assad regime and prevent them from committing war crimes against their own civilians.  He could have done it unilaterally, but that would have created a huge stink and consternation in Congress, so he said, basically, “Okay, I’ll do it but only if you approve of it.”

[Crickets]

So now we have had this horrible chemical weapons attack, clearly by someone other than the opposition in Syria because they don’t have the wherewithal, and not by ISIS since it was from an airstrike and they don’t have an air force.   The world roundly condemns it, and of course the White House under Trump is turning around and doing what they do best: finding someone else to blame.

Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people including women and children is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” Spicer told reporters. “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution.” Spicer also said: “President Obama said in 2012 he would establish a red line against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable act.” (Later in the day, the White House issued a statement echoing Spicer’s remarks.)

You know who also counseled President Obama to do nothing?  Take a wild guess.

Whether or not Obama’s policy in 2013 was successful, this much is clear: at that point, Trump had an unambiguous position regarding Syria— do nothing. Throughout this episode, Trump tweeted up a storm about Syria. Repeatedly, he declared—occasionally in all-caps!—that Obama should not be messing around in Syria. He said there was no reason to attack Syria or take any action there. Let the Arab League deal with the problem. He was asserting that Obama should not respond to the chemical attacks—a policy certainly in sync with Assad (and his Russian patrons). Stay out of this, Trump demanded, and focus on domestic issues.

It’s as if they don’t even care that anyone would check the record and call them out on it.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Party Of No

And about time, too.

Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch ended Thursday on a confrontational note, with the body’s top Democrat vowing a filibuster that could complicate Gorsuch’s expected confirmation and ultimately upend the traditional approach to approving justices.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he will vote no on President Trump’s nominee and asked other Democrats to join him in blocking an up-or-down vote on Gorsuch.

[…]

In a speech on the Senate floor, Schumer said: “If this nominee cannot earn 60 votes — a bar met by each of President Obama’s nominees and George Bush’s last two nominees — the answer isn’t to change the rules. It’s to change the nominee.”

I think Merrick Garland is available.

Rest assured that the Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, will storm around and run to the microphones to call Mr. Schumer an “obstructionist” and we’ll hear the minions on Fox News carry on about how it’s the Democrats who want to keep anything from getting done in Washington which is why Trump won the election by an overwhelming majority.  And then they’ll smile and burst into flames from the irony overload accelerated by the gallons of rank hypocrisy doused on them by Karma.

It is way past the time for the Democrats to utilize the tactics that are available to every minority party on Capitol Hill that are either written or unwritten in order to put a check on the roughshod running by the majority.  When the Republicans were in the minority they did it very well, most recently when they declared even before the litter had been picked up from the first inauguration of Barack Obama that nothing he did would get past them without a fight because he was… well, there had to be something that was coloring their judgment.  Even if they agreed with the principle of the policy, they were not going to allow it to become law.

For the Democrats, the difference is that not only is it sauce for the gander time, they actually will look at what is being proposed by Trump and consider it on its merits, not just because he sent it up.  They will stop it because it is bad policy, harmful to a lot of people, benefits just a few, or poses a threat to what we commonly call “democracy.”

So go on, Democrats, and become the party of No, the obstructionists, and the naysayers.  And if the Republicans complain, tell them you had a good teacher.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Teed Off

There are a lot more important things to be upset about than how Trump spends his leisure time, but since he made such a big deal about how much time President Obama spent playing golf, let’s take a look at what he’s doing on his time off.

Before Donald Trump became president, he sent several dozen tweets criticizing then-President Barack Obama for playing golf. “I just want to stay in [the] White House [and] work my ass off,” he told reporters in February 2016. That November, Trump acknowledged that he would play golf as president, but said he would “always play with leaders of countries and people who can help us.”

Since becoming president, Trump has played a lot of golf. Specifically, he has made six trips to the golf course in 30 days. This has caused some people to suggest Trump might be a hypocrite. The White House, which seems sensitive to those allegations, has responded by keeping the press and the public in the dark about Trump’s golfing ― sometimes literally, like on Feb. 11, when administration officials made an AP reporter wait in a room with black plastic over the windows while the president played golf.

Trump’s golfing this weekend was similarly secret. Late Sunday afternoon, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a top White House press aide, told reporters Trump had played “a couple of holes” Saturday and Sunday.

It was more than a couple, and it wasn’t all with world leaders: Trump played 18 holes on Sunday with pro golfer Rory McIlroy, who’s ranked third in the world; sports agent Nick Mullen; and Richard Levine, a Trump friend, donor and frequent golf partner, McIlroy told golf blog No Laying Up.

So why should anyone get worked up about what Trump does on the weekends?  Well, for one thing, he made a yuge deal about President Obama’s love of the links and now he’s just fine — if not a bit touchy — with it.  Which shows that old golf adage to be true: if someone will lie about their golf game, they’ll lie about anything.

Monday, January 9, 2017

That Was Then…

Would it surprise you that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who demanded in 2009 that President Obama’s cabinet appointees be thoroughly and completely vetted by the Office of Government Ethics before being confirmed, now claims that the same intense scrutiny is too much of a burden for the cabinet appointees of Trump?

Why no, not at all.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Steel Yourself

Add this one to the growing list of examples of steaming hypocrisy from Donald “We’re Gonna Buy American!” Trump.

Plenty of blue-collar workers believe that, as president, Donald Trump would be ready to fight off U.S. trade adversaries and reinvigorate the country’s manufacturing industries through his commitment to the Rust Belt. What they likely don’t know is that Trump has been stiffing American steel workers on his own construction projects for years, choosing to deprive untold millions of dollars from four key electoral swing states and instead directing it to China—the country whose trade practices have helped decimate the once-powerful industrial center of the United States.

Newsweek investigation has found that in at least two of Trump’s last three construction projects, Trump opted to purchase his steel and aluminum from Chinese manufacturers rather than United States corporations based in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. In other instances, he abandoned steel altogether, instead choosing the far-less-expensive option of buying concrete from various companies, including some linked to the Luchese and Genovese crime families. Trump has never been accused of engaging in any wrongdoing for his business dealings with those companies, but it’s true that the Mafia has long controlled much of the concrete industry in New York.

Hey, Chinese steel mills and wise guys need to make a living, right?

In other news from the front, the Trump Foundation has been barred from fundraising in New York because it hasn’t done its homework.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Some Kind Of Genius

The talking point that came out of Trump Tower in the wake of the revelation that Donald Trump didn’t pay any federal income taxes in 1995 was that he was a “genius” for being able to legally game the tax code so that he had no tax liability and that makes him just the right person to run the country.

Unfortunately the talking points were handed out to folks like Rudy Giuliani who immediately turned it into this:

Don’t you think a man who has this kind of economic genius is a lot better for the United States than a woman?

Yeah, that will go over great with the few women who were still in the Trump camp after last week’s rants about Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe, in which Mr. Trump alienated Latinas and people who don’t measure up to some perverted view of what an ideal weight is.

The “genius” line got repeated by Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) on Fox News, saying that the news proved what a good businessman Trump was and that it was “actually a very, very good story for Donald Trump.”

That’s kind of like saying that the sinking of the Titanic was actually great news for the White Star Line because now they could collect the insurance on the ship and they wouldn’t have to worry about where to moor it in New York.

I have to give the Trump people credit for being able to say that a real estate developer who lost almost a billion dollars in the middle of a boom economy on gambling casinos is a genius for hiring an accountant who knew how to work the tax code and the loopholes that exist for people in the economic stratosphere.

The justification they commonly use is that they are the ones risking so much — and creating so many jobs (and in Mr. Trump’s case not paying for them) — that they should be allowed to get a break.  Tell that to the guy in Toledo who is trying to keep his business afloat.  Mr. Trump may claim he’s lost a billion dollars, but I don’t see him chowing down on Top Ramen or driving a twenty-year old Corolla with bald tires and an oil leak.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) nails it:

Senate Republicans have put party so far ahead of country, they’ve endorsed a racist, incompetent failure who managed to lose a billion dollars in a boom year. Now they are helping Trump hide his tax returns and preventing the American people from knowing what individuals, businesses or foreign interests could have leverage over Trump.

If Mr. Trump had any political sense and any class at all, he would have taken this revelation and run with it as several other rich people have, including Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, and said, “Yes, I took advantage of the tax code, but it’s rigged for people like me and it shouldn’t be.  We need to make it so that everyone pays their fair share.”  Instead he sends out these wormtongued hypocrites to defend his pimpish lifestyle and change the subject to Bill Clinton’s infidelity.  Now there’s a topic that Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump, and campaign manager Steve Bannon — with twelve wives among them — can speak to.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sunday Reading

Why Trump Won’t Release His Taxes — The New York Times reports on how Donald Trump was able to parlay business losses into not paying federal income taxes.

Donald J. Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns, a tax deduction so substantial it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years, records obtained by The New York Times show.

The 1995 tax records, never before disclosed, reveal the extraordinary tax benefits that Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, derived from the financial wreckage he left behind in the early 1990s through mismanagement of three Atlantic City casinos, his ill-fated foray into the airline business and his ill-timed purchase of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.

Tax experts hired by The Times to analyze Mr. Trump’s 1995 records said that tax rules especially advantageous to wealthy filers would have allowed Mr. Trump to use his $916 million loss to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income over an 18-year period.

Although Mr. Trump’s taxable income in subsequent years is as yet unknown, a $916 million loss in 1995 would have been large enough to wipe out more than $50 million a year in taxable income over 18 years.

The $916 million loss certainly could have eliminated any federal income taxes Mr. Trump otherwise would have owed on the $50,000 to $100,000 he was paid for each episode of “The Apprentice,” or the roughly $45 million he was paid between 1995 and 2009 when he was chairman or chief executive of the publicly traded company he created to assume ownership of his troubled Atlantic City casinos. Ordinary investors in the new company, meanwhile, saw the value of their shares plunge to 17 cents from $35.50, while scores of contractors went unpaid for work on Mr. Trump’s casinos and casino bondholders received pennies on the dollar.

“He has a vast benefit from his destruction” in the early 1990s, said one of the experts, Joel Rosenfeld, an assistant professor at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate. Mr. Rosenfeld offered this description of what he would advise a client who came to him with a tax return like Mr. Trump’s: “Do you realize you can create $916 million in income without paying a nickel in taxes?”

Mr. Trump declined to comment on the documents. Instead, the campaign released a statement that neither challenged nor confirmed the $916 million loss.

“Mr. Trump is a highly-skilled businessman who has a fiduciary responsibility to his business, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required,” the statement said. “That being said, Mr. Trump has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes, sales and excise taxes, real estate taxes, city taxes, state taxes, employee taxes and federal taxes.”

The statement continued, “Mr. Trump knows the tax code far better than anyone who has ever run for President and he is the only one that knows how to fix it.”

Separately, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, Marc E. Kasowitz, emailed a letter to The Times arguing that publication of the records is illegal because Mr. Trump has not authorized the disclosure of any of his tax returns. Mr. Kasowitz threatened “prompt initiation of appropriate legal action.”

Mr. Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public — breaking with decades of tradition in presidential contests — has emerged as a central issue in the campaign, with a majority of voters saying he should release them. Mr. Trump has declined to do so, and has said he is being audited by the Internal Revenue Service.

At last Monday’s presidential debate, when Hillary Clinton suggested Mr. Trump was refusing to release his tax returns so voters would not know “he’s paid nothing in federal taxes,” and when she also pointed out that Mr. Trump had once revealed to casino regulators that he paid no federal income taxes in the late 1970s, Mr. Trump retorted, “That makes me smart.”

The tax experts consulted by The Times said nothing in the 1995 documents suggested any wrongdoing by Mr. Trump, even if the extraordinary size of the loss he declared would have probably attracted extra scrutiny from I.R.S. examiners. “The I.R.S., when they see a negative $916 million, that has to pop out,” Mr. Rosenfeld said.

The documents examined by The Times represent a small fraction of the voluminous tax returns Mr. Trump would have filed in 1995.

The documents consisted of three pages from what appeared to be Mr. Trump’s 1995 tax returns. The pages were mailed last month to Susanne Craig, a reporter at The Times who has written about Mr. Trump’s finances. The documents were the first page of a New York State resident income tax return, the first page of a New Jersey nonresident tax return and the first page of a Connecticut nonresident tax return. Each page bore the names and Social Security numbers of Mr. Trump and Marla Maples, his wife at the time. Only the New Jersey form had what appeared to be their signatures.

The three documents arrived by mail at The Times with a postmark indicating they had been sent from New York City. The return address claimed the envelope had been sent from Trump Tower.

On Wednesday, The Times presented the tax documents to Jack Mitnick, a lawyer and certified public accountant who handled Mr. Trump’s tax matters for more than 30 years, until 1996. Mr. Mitnick was listed as the preparer on the New Jersey tax form.

A flaw in the tax software program he used at the time prevented him from being able to print a nine-figure loss on Mr. Trump’s New York return, he said. So, for example, the loss of “-915,729,293” on Line 18 of the return printed out as “5,729,293.” As a result, Mr. Mitnick recalled, he had to use his typewriter to manually add the “-91,” thus explaining why the first two digits appeared to be in a different font and were slightly misaligned from the following seven digits.

“This is legit,” he said, stabbing a finger into the document.

Because the documents sent to The Times did not include any pages from Mr. Trump’s 1995 federal tax return, it is impossible to determine how much he may have donated to charity that year. The state documents do show, though, that Mr. Trump declined the opportunity to contribute to the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Fund, the New Jersey Wildlife Conservation Fund or the Children’s Trust Fund. He also declined to contribute $1 toward public financing of New Jersey’s elections for governor.

The tax documents also do not shed any light on Mr. Trump’s claimed net worth of about $2 billion at that time. This is because the complex calculations of business deductions that produced a tax loss of $916 million are a separate matter from how Mr. Trump valued his assets, the tax experts said.

Nor does the $916 million loss suggest that Mr. Trump was insolvent or effectively bankrupt in 1995. The cash flow generated by his various businesses that year was more than enough to service his various debts.

But fragmentary as they are, the documents nonetheless provide new insight into Mr. Trump’s finances, a subject of intense scrutiny given Mr. Trump’s emphasis on his business record during the presidential campaign.

The documents show, for example, that while Mr. Trump reported $7.4 million in interest income in 1995, he made only $6,108 in wages, salaries and tips. They also suggest Mr. Trump took full advantage of generous tax loopholes specifically available to commercial real estate developers to claim a $15.8 million loss in 1995 on his real estate holdings and partnerships.

But the most important revelation from the 1995 tax documents is just how much Mr. Trump may have benefited from a tax provision that is particularly prized by America’s dynastic families, which, like the Trumps, hold their wealth inside byzantine networks of partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations.

The provision, known as net operating loss, or N.O.L., allows a dizzying array of deductions, business expenses, real estate depreciation, losses from the sale of business assets and even operating losses to flow from the balance sheets of those partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations onto the personal tax returns of men like Mr. Trump. In turn, those losses can be used to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income from, say, book royalties or branding deals.

Better still, if the losses are big enough, they can cancel out taxable income earned in other years. Under I.R.S. rules in 1995, net operating losses could be used to wipe out taxable income earned in the three years before and the 15 years after the loss. (The effect of net operating losses on state income taxes varies, depending on each state’s tax regime.)

The tax experts consulted by The Times said the $916 million net operating loss declared by Mr. Trump in 1995 almost certainly included large net operating losses carried forward from the early 1990s, when most of Mr. Trump’s key holdings were hemorrhaging money. Indeed, by 1990, his entire business empire was on the verge of collapse. In a few short years, he had amassed $3.4 billion in debt — personally guaranteeing $832 million of it — to assemble a portfolio that included three casinos and a hotel in Atlantic City, the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, an airline and a huge yacht.

Reports that year by New Jersey casino regulators gave glimpses of the balance sheet carnage. The Trump Taj Mahal casino reported a $25.5 million net loss during its first six months of 1990; the Trump’s Castle casino lost $43.5 million for the year. His airline, Trump Shuttle, lost $34.5 million during just the first six months of that year.

“Simply put, the organization is in dire financial straits,” the casino regulators concluded.

Reports by New Jersey’s casino regulators strongly suggested that Mr. Trump had claimed large net operating losses on his taxes in the early 1990s. Their reports, for example, revealed that Mr. Trump had carried forward net operating losses in both 1991 and 1993. What’s more, the reports said the losses he claimed were large enough to virtually cancel out any taxes he might owe on the millions of dollars of debt that was being forgiven by his creditors. (The I.R.S. considers forgiven debt to be taxable income.)

But crucially, the casino regulators redacted the precise size of the net operating losses in the public versions of their reports. Two former New Jersey officials, who were privy to the unredacted documents, could not recall the precise size of the numbers, but said they were substantial.

Politico, which previously reported that Mr. Trump most likely paid no income taxes in 1991 and 1993 based on the casino commission’s description of his net operating losses, asked Mr. Trump to comment. “Welcome to the real estate business,” he replied in an email.

Now, thanks to Mr. Trump’s 1995 tax records, the degree to which he spun all those years of red ink into tax write-off gold may finally be apparent.

Mr. Mitnick, the lawyer and accountant, was the person Mr. Trump leaned on most to do the spinning. Mr. Mitnick worked for a small Long Island accounting firm that specialized in handling tax issues for wealthy New York real estate families. He had long handled tax matters for Mr. Trump’s father, Fred C. Trump, and he said he began doing Donald Trump’s taxes after Mr. Trump turned 18.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Mitnick said he could not divulge details of Mr. Trump’s finances without Mr. Trump’s consent. But he did talk about Mr. Trump’s approaches to taxes, and he contrasted Fred Trump’s attention to detail with what he described as Mr. Trump’s brash and undisciplined style. He recalled, for example, that when Donald and Ivana Trump came in each year to sign their tax forms, it was almost always Ivana who asked more questions.

But if Mr. Trump lacked a sophisticated understanding of the tax code, and if he rarely showed any interest in the details behind various tax strategies, Mr. Mitnick said he clearly grasped the critical role taxes would play in helping him build wealth. “He knew we could use the tax code to protect him,” Mr. Mitnick said.

According to Mr. Mitnick, Mr. Trump’s use of net operating losses was no different from that of his other wealthy clients. “This may have had a couple extra digits compared to someone else’s operation, but they all benefited in the same way,” he said, pointing to the $916 million loss on Mr. Trump’s tax returns.

In “The Art of the Deal,” his 1987 best-selling book, Mr. Trump referred to Mr. Mitnick as “my accountant” — although he misspelled his name. Mr. Trump described consulting with Mr. Mitnick on the tax implications of deals he was contemplating and seeking his advice on how new federal tax regulations might affect real estate write-offs.

Mr. Mitnick, though, said there were times when even he, for all his years helping wealthy New Yorkers navigate the tax code, found it difficult to face the incongruity of his work for Mr. Trump. He felt keenly aware that Mr. Trump was living a life of unimaginable luxury thanks in part to Mr. Mitnick’s ability to relieve him of the burden of paying taxes like everyone else.

“Here the guy was building incredible net worth and not paying tax on it,” he said.

Now Is The Time — John Nichols in The Nation on expressing solidarity with Arab-Americans.

The ugly political climate of 2016 has made this a rough year for the Arab-American community.

Donald Trump’s cruel and unusual campaign has had many targets. But he has been particularly vile in his targeting of Muslims and immigrants from Middle Eastern countries.

By openly disregarding constitutional provisions that were designed to guard against religious tests and to guarantee equal protection under the law for all Americans, Trump has mainstreamed deliberate ignorance and crude bigotry. He has called for banning Muslim immigration. He had stoked resentment against Syrian refugees of all backgrounds. He has entertained the idea of compiling a national database of Muslims living in the United States. And he has opened a discussion about surveillance of houses of worship with suggestions that “we have to be very strong in terms of looking at the mosques.”

The Arab-American community is diverse. Arab Americans are Muslims and Christians; they are religious and secular; they trace their roots to many countries; some are recent immigrants but many have family histories in the US that extend back as far as those of the Republican presidential nominee. What they have in common is a shared sense of having been stereotyped and targeted unfairly in this election campaign.

Arab-Americans of all backgrounds say they feel frustrated and “exhausted” after a year of having to defend themselves from Trump’s attacks. “I was born, raised in America,” Ron Amen, a member of the large and well-established Arab-American community in Dearborn, Michigan, told NPR in a poignant discussion of the campaign. “I served this country in the military. I served this country as a police officer for 32 years. I don’t know what else I would have to prove to people like Mr. Trump that I’m not a threat to this country.

It is by now well understood that Trump’s rhetoric has fostered a climate of fear and intimidation that is not just divisive. It is, as Congressman Keith Ellison and others have suggested, a source of understandable anxiety and fear for those who Trump targets.

“He’s whipping up hatred to scapegoat a minority religious group, which has some very dangerous historic precedents,” Ellison explained last year. “I mean, it’s the kind of behavior, it’s classic demagoguery, and you know, he’s going to get somebody hurt.”

In divided and dangerous times, it is vital for rational and responsible Americans to speak up. It is important to criticize Trump when he makes bigoted statements. It is also important to express solidarity with individuals and groups that are targeted by Trump — and with organizations that push back against the politicians who stoke fear and resentment.

This is about much more than politics. This is about being on the right side of history.

That is why it mattered, a lot, when Democratic National Committee interim chair Donna Brazile on Friday joined Dr. James Zogby (the co-founder and president of the Arab American Institute who was appointed by President Obama to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2013 and who chairs the Democratic National Committee’s ethnic council) in issuing a extended statement of solidarity with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee:

The Democratic Party shares the mission of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). We stand for diversity, inclusivity, freedom of religion, and we celebrate the contributions of hardworking immigrants and Americans of all ethnicities. This year, we’ve seen a troubling rise in hateful and divisive political rhetoric aimed at Muslim Americans and immigrants, so it’s crucial for those of us who believe that our diversity is our strength to aggressively defend victims of discrimination, and to warmly welcome people of every background into our communities.

Issued to celebrate the annual convention of the ADC, a major gathering of Arab Americans and their allies, the statement declared that “the Democratic Party is proud to stand with our Arab American brothers and sisters. We look forward to working hand-in-hand to defend the rights of Arab Americans, to end stereotyping and discrimination, and to fight for the causes of peace, prosperity and security for all.”

Democrats, and responsible Republicans, have hailed the work of the ADC before.

But these words represent a welcome and necessary show of solidarity that merits notation and celebration. Because in times like these, “solidarity” must become the watchword of a more humane and progressive politics.

Havana Hustle — Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker on Donald Trump’s skirting the embargo.

In 1998, a decade after his ghostwritten memoir, “The Art of the Deal,” made him a household name in the United States, the New York real-estate developer Donald Trump sent a team of consultants to Cuba to sniff out new business opportunities. According to a story in the current issue of Newsweek, Trump paid the expenses for the consultants, who worked for the Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corporation. Their bill came to $68,551.88.

The payment was illegal, and was also covered up. Documents obtained by Newsweek suggest that Trump’s executives knew as much, and sought to conceal the payments by making it appear that they had gone to a charitable effort. Clearly, Trump’s company, then called Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, knowingly violated the long-standing U.S. trade embargo with Cuba, part of the Trading with the Enemy Act—which, as it happens, is still on the books today, despite President Obama’s restoration of relations with Cuba, in December, 2014. The embargo is a complex bundle of laws and prohibitions that have accrued over a half century and that can only be done away with by a majority vote in Congress, which seems unlikely to happen anytime soon.

If Trump’s violation of the act had been discovered earlier, the developer could have been sentenced to up to ten years in prison and fined as much as a million dollars. In 2004, the U.S. imposed an undisclosed fine on the Spanish airline Iberia for transporting Cuban goods through the United States. In 2005, an American businessman pleaded guilty to violating the embargo by selling water-purification supplies to Cuba. He and two of his associates, who pleaded guilty a year earlier, were given probation sentences, after years in court. The statute of limitations on Trump’s venture into Cuba has now run out, and he has escaped the likelihood of criminal prosecution. But by compounding the growing perception that he is an inveterate cheat and liar, it could further damage his chances of winning the Presidency on November 8th.

Trump not only violated the embargo but also took ostentatiously hypocritical positions on it. In November, 1999, less than a year after he sent the consultants to Cuba, Trump flirted with launching his first Presidential bid, as the candidate of the Reform Party, at an event hosted by the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation, in Miami. Trump swore to his audience that he would never do business in Cuba until Fidel Castro, whom he called “a murderer” and “a bad guy in every respect,” was dead and gone. He added that he thought the embargo was a good thing because money spent on the island went to Castro, not to the people of Cuba. Trump received big applause for his expressions of solidarity with Cuban-Americans, and even cracked a joke that he’d oversee their victory over Communism as either “the greatest developer in the country or the greatest President you’ve had in a long time.”

During the Presidential race, Trump has altered course on Cuba. Last year, during the primary campaign, Trump said that he supported government efforts to restore relations with the island. Then, at a Miami rally two weeks ago, Trump claimed that Obama should have secured better terms in negotiations with Cuba, and that “unless the Castro regime meets our demands,” he would reverse Obama’s executive orders. Among his demands, Trump said, were “religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners.” The change in position received little notice at the time because of another statement Trump made at that rally: that Hillary Clinton’s bodyguards should disarm themselves, “to see what happens.”

The End of Automotive Styling — Ian Bogost on the death of the sexy car.

The automobile has become the enemy of progress. It’s an unlikely outcome, from the vantage point of the 20th century. Not that long ago, cars were still unequivocal symbols of personal power—especially in America, where basic mobility is often impossible without one.

But now cars are increasingly uncool. For one part, they’re a major source of carbon emissions, and thereby a principal cause of global warming. For another part, they’re expensive to own and operate, especially in big cities. The high-status technology, media, and finance professionals who live in cities like New York and San Francisco and the like can get around by public transit, on foot, and by bike. Elsewhere, the recession stifled car purchases and use among all demographics. Millennials just entering the workforce, who might have started buying cars had the economy been better, are more likely to have found and then acclimated to other options—including ride-hailing services like Uber.

Then there’s the robocars. Once a wild-west, self-driving are cars gaining momentum. Google has been driving robotic Lexus SUVs in Mountain View for years. Uber has begun a working trial of an autonomous fleet in Pittsburgh. Tesla has installed partially-autonomous “autopilot” in its cars for years. And finally (thanks partially to Tesla autopilot’s questionable safety record) the U.S. government has issued guidelines for autonomous vehicles, along with an endorsement of their promise for the future.

Autonomous cars are destined to become fleet cars. Services like Uber and Lyft depend on the idea that riders don’t want to own cars, but only to rent them when needed. Making the cars drive themselves removes the need for people to operate them, too—thereby snuffing out all the human pleasure associated with driving. While still hypothetical, Google’s autonomous cars will likely work the same way. Like many technology businesses, Google and Uber are based on the premise that people don’t want to own anything—whether a word processor or an automobile—but only to borrow them on-demand. Leasing a car feels much the same as owning one. The lessee is still responsible for it, still garages it, still winces at dings on its surface. But nowadays, a different kind of lease has become common: the transient usage of software-driven services that appear and disappear at whim. Google Docs leaves much to be desired, but who cares when it’s free and easy to use? A particular Uber ride might be more or less unpleasant than another, but soon enough it will drive away never to be seen again. Goods become tools, and temporary ones at that.
But yet, people do care about cars that way. Or at least, they did. As automobiles become more like online software services, travelers will become less attached to their aesthetic properties. As I’ve written about before, Tesla has already begun preparing car culture for the end of the automobile as an object of desire. The Model S is a supercar that’s as stylish as a pair of Dockers. Google’s prototype for a cute pod of a self-driving car does something similar. Uber’s early autonomous cars are about as unsexy as they come: a fleet of Ford Fusions topped with big, LIDAR hats—hardly the kind of vehicle that could adorn posters on adolescent bedroom walls. As my colleague Megan Garber put it, cars like these take the automotive logic of the 20th century— “cars as luxury, cars as freedom, cars as sex”—and flip it on its head. Now vehicles are becoming a commodity and a service. What’s less sexy than a car a bunch of other people have also recently occupied?

* * *

The increasing un-sexiness of cars helps explain a startling, recent rumor: that Apple is in talks to acquire or invest in the British supercar company McLaren.

McLaren is best known for its Formula 1 pedigree, although the company also makes million-dollar road cars for the very wealthy. In recent years, the company has also expanded into design consulting and parts, strengths it developed thanks to the unforgiving conditions of Formula 1 racing. Estimated to be worth about $2 billion, Apple could easily snap up the company with some of its $200 billion or so in cash reserves.

Apple, meanwhile, has reportedly been developing its own electric and/or autonomous vehicle program. As with everything Apple, the company has been secretive about its plans. One thing we do seem to know about “Project Titan,” as the Apple project was code-named, is that it recently underwent a dramatic restructuring, including a number of layoffs. All is not well in Apple’s garage.That makes the possibility of an Apple partnership with automakers seem more likely. McLaren quickly denied the rumors of investment or takeover, but whether or not a partnership or acquisition will ever really happen is less interesting than what it means that the public would find one so interesting in the first place.

Some of those affinities are obvious. McLaren has been working on lighter and more efficient electric drivetrains, a feature of obvious interest to any future automaker. And Apple’s reported shift from developing a complete autonomous car to a provider of technologies for other manufacturers seems to correspond with McLaren’s strategy to use Formula 1 as a testbed for more mainstream applications. Other Apple technologies, like the iPhone in-car entertainment system known as CarPlay, offer paradigmatic examples for potential operational infrastructures for future automobiles. The “Intel Inside” of future automobiles.

But others are less obvious. In truth, the appeal of Apple’s hypothetical absorption of McLaren is most easily explained from the gut or the crotch rather than from the head or the hands. No matter the number of analysts poring over the strategic benefits of a future set of Apple-branded components and subsystems derived from McLaren inventions and installed in ordinary Fords and Hyundais, the idea of an Apple acquisition of McLaren evokes one singular and undeniable image: a sleek, dark, and perfect Apple supercar.

I can imagine it in my mind’s eye. Black or silver (or rose gold, of course), the Mac (forgive me) is a vessel where the seam between glass and metal cannot be distinguished. When a nearby owner is recognized, the gentle sigh of tamed hydraulics acknowledges him or her, engaging some heretofore unthought car door entry paradigm. Its engine hums low and bright, powerful yet winsome. If the automobile has always been a symbol of power and freedom and sex, and if everyone wants nothing more than to stroke an iPhone until it sublimates pleasure and access—just imagine how good it would feel to grip the tightly stitched wheel of an Apple-McLaren love child.

But yet, we already know that no human will soon grip any wheel, let alone that of a supercar. And so the truth eventually creeps into the dream. There will be no Apple supercar, because cars themselves are being dismantled and reinstalled as technology services.

McLaren, for example, has already spun off a consulting group called McLaren Applied Technologies, which domesticates the wild Formula 1 machine into more practical affairs: data analysis, advanced control systems, data-driven intelligent products. The Formula 1 racer inevitably must settle down into the workaday necessity of, say, “facilitating analysis of human and machine performance through advanced data analytics, algorithms and prediction.”

It’s the supercar equivalent of your favorite punk band selling its signature lick for an adult diapers jingle. The very idea of a supercar—and to some extent, of an ordinary one—is excess. A singular human being whose feet and hands pilot two tons of metal and rubber and leather and explosives from the garage to the supermarket.And yet, that is just the function that automobiles are now abandoning. Instead, cars are becoming leased appliances, made and sold with efficiency to suppliers intent on renting them out for minutes at a time to customers who would rather forget ever having been inside them. Nothing could be less sensual than the boring universe of business-to-business fleet sales—except, maybe, the boring universe of business-to-business fleet-sales component supply.Cars once lived among us, their clear-coated steel body moldings and tinted glass  windows offering counterpart to human flesh and tailored textile. But soon, they will live on the inside of technology services—as components and subsystems, just as do the microprocessors and batteries and GPS units and accelerometers that drive our smartphones. Automobiles are doomed and destined to become mere parts infrastructures for worldly conveyance. There they won’t even be seen, let alone desired. What kind of freak lusts for microprocessors?The dream of Apple’s subsumption of McLaren is a collective final breath of the automotive dream. And like that death rattle, it is both terrifying and beautiful. Even near its end, the automobile still has its wits about it. The memory of speed and power and control persists, for a moment anyway, just before it turns into yet another borrowed appliance, to be used and also forgotten.

Doonesbury — Quick, get me evidence.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cheapskate

Via the Washington Post:

In May, under pressure from the news media, Donald Trump made good on a pledge he made four months earlier: He gave $1 million to a nonprofit group helping veterans’ families.

Before that, however, when was the last time that Trump had given any of his own money to a charity?

If Trump stands by his promises, such donations should be occurring all the time. In the 15 years prior to the veterans donation, Trump promised to donate earnings from a wide variety of his moneymaking enterprises: “The Apprentice.” Trump Vodka. Trump University. A book. Another book. If he had honored all those pledges, Trump’s gifts to charity would have topped $8.5 million.

But in the 15 years prior to the veterans’ gift, public records show that Trump donated about $2.8 million through a foundation set up to give his money away — less than a third of the pledged amount — and nothing since 2009. Records show Trump has given nothing to his foundation since 2008.

It’s one thing to not give money to charities; not everyone can afford to chip in to every worthy cause.  But it’s entirely another when you’ve pledged to donate and then don’t follow through.  And even worse when you brag about your generosity and then have to be shamed into paying up.

To quote Archie Bunker, “it’s easy to be generous when it don’t cost you nothin’.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Fair Warning

It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from Florida’s junior senator.  Here’s why.

Joining the chorus of Republicans condemning Donald Trump over his rhetoric toward a federal judge’s Mexican heritage, Marco Rubio offered a cutting remark: I warned you.

The Florida senator on Monday called on Trump to stop questioning Indiana-born U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s ability to preside fairly over Trump University fraud cases due to his Mexican heritage but appeared to take solace in having predicted that something like this would happen.

“I don’t defend what he says, and all I can tell you is I ran for president and I warned you this is what was going to happen,” Rubio told WFTV’s Christopher Heath. “I consistently said if he became the nominee, we’d face these sorts of difficult choices we now have.”

But he’s still going to vote for him and campaign for him.  He warned you.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Selling Their Souls

From Sunday’s New York Times:

Activists and leaders in the social conservative movement, after spending most of the past year opposing and condemning Donald J. Trump, are now moving to embrace his candidacy and are joining the growing number of mainstream Republicans who appear ready to coalesce around the party’s presumptive nominee.

Though their support for Mr. Trump is often qualified, this change of heart is one of the more remarkable turns in an erratic and precedent-defying Republican campaign. It reflects the sense among many Republicans that, flawed as they may see him, the thrice-married billionaire is preferable to the alternative.

“Oh, my, it’s difficult,” said Penny Nance, the president of Concerned Women for America, a group that has openly campaigned against Mr. Trump. “He’s not my first choice. He’s not my second choice,” she added. “But any concerns I have about him pale in contrast to Hillary Clinton.”

And Mr. Trump — whose litany of offenses against cultural conservatives include support of Planned Parenthood, past positions on abortion rights and his more accepting views on gays and lesbians — is winning over this once deeply skeptical constituency.

He has made overt moves, such as suggesting last week that he would name Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, and sent subtle signals, like employing people for his campaign who are well known in the movement.

Mr. Trump has, to a large extent, placated a vocal and powerful element of the Republican Party’s base, whose backing he will need if he wants to wage a general election campaign leading a united conservative movement.

In him, they see a convert to their cause, not a transgressor.

It’s more like they found a kindred spirit.  All of the groups named in the article are well-known for being pliable on their hard-core beliefs as long as they can manipulate them to their advantage and tap into someone else’s wallet.

So I’m not at all surprised that Christian conservatives would find their way to follow Donald Trump.  They know a fellow grifter when they see one.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Character Reference

Disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay invoked Jesus in an attempt to get the judge to go easy on Dennis Hastert for sexually assaulting teenage boys.

“He is a good man that loves the Lord. He gets his integrity and values from Him. He doesn’t deserve what he is going through.”

Can’t wait until we hear from Mark Foley.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Caught Another One

Yep, another family-values holier-than-thou Republican has been caught in flagrant hypocrisy.  This time it’s Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama.

State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, is moving to start impeachment against embattled Gov. Robert Bentley amid the scandal engulfing the governor’s office surrounding his former senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. If the House impeaches Bentley, it would bring the governor one step closer to being removed from office by the legislature.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, confirmed to AL.com that Henry was planning on bringing the articles of impeachment against the governor as early as next week. Henry could not immediately be reached for comment.

Ford said “over half” of the House is in favor of impeachment. A majority is needed to impeach the governor.

I really don’t care what consenting adults do in private.  In fact, I don’t even want to know as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone or break the law.  But when someone has sold himself as a God-fearing Baptist deacon and stands behind laws that discriminate against consenting adults.

If he has any sense of decency, he’d find a reason to stop inflicting himself on the people of Alabama.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

When We Do It, It’s Good

When Tim Wolfe resigned as the president of the University of Missouri system over racial tensions, the right-wingers went into their expected rage over political correctness and mob rule.  When, they ask, has a leader ever been forced out of office because the people he is in charge of don’t like the way he’s leading them?  It’s anti-American and tantamount to terrorism.

Oh, really?  Steve M says “Let’s ask John Boehner.”

What did these students do to Tim Wolfe? They did exactly what the conservative movement did to Boehner: they applied pressure until he realized that his position was untenable and his only hope of heading off a possibly unquenchable rebellion was to resign. The defenestration of Boehner was, as I recall, hailed by conservatives as a great moment for American liberty, even though he’d been duly elected by both the voters of his district and the very House Republicans who went on to toss him out the window. But the forced resignation of Wolfe is fascism in a way that the campaign against Boehner wasn’t because, well, it just is.

This is just the latest example of right-wing outrage over someone else doing something they racked up goodie points for.  When Cliven Bundy, the freeloading rancher in Nevada refused to pay grazing fees to the Bureau of Land Management, he was hailed as a hero by Fox News for standing up for freedom; when Eric Garner sold cigarettes in New York without paying taxes, he was labeled as a thug by the right-wing media for defying the just laws of this nation and he got what was coming to him.

The two situations, however, are not at all alike: Cliven Bundy is white and armed; Eric Garner was black and unarmed.