Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Short Takes

Militants attack police academy in Pakistan; many killed.

Vatican to help mediate political situation in Venezuela.

Ex-attorney general of Pennsylvania sentenced to prison.

Pentagon trying to get back recruitment bonuses.

No kidding: Study says guns on campus won’t make them safer.

Game 1 of the World Series is tonight in Cleveland.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Short Takes

China and Philippines make nice, reopen talks on disputed territory.

Politics and in-fighting hamper offensive in Mosul.

President Obama takes on Marco Rubio in Miami.

Trump Foundation paid right-wing filmmaker James O’Keefe.

Trump bombs at Al Smith dinner.

Cubs beat the Dodgers to get close to the Series.

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.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Short Takes

Congress overrides veto to allow suits against Saudi Arabia.

Congress passes short-term funding measure.

Sudan accused of using chemical weapons on civilians.

President Obama will lead the U.S. delegation to Peres funeral.

Tropical Update: TS Matthew keeps on track in the Caribbean toward Cuba.

The Tigers beat Cleveland 6-3.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

It’s How They Got Capone

This story didn’t get much notice when it was reported on Monday because there was some other shiny object that we were all occupied with, but this could be big news.

Donald Trump’s charitable foundation has received approximately $2.3 million from companies that owed money to Trump or one of his businesses but were instructed to pay Trump’s tax-exempt foundation instead, according to people familiar with the transactions.

In cases where he diverted his own income to his foundation, tax experts said, Trump would still likely be required to pay taxes on the income. Trump has refused to release his personal tax returns. His campaign said he paid income tax on one of the donations, but did not respond to questions about the others.

That gift was a $400,000 payment from Comedy Central, which owed Trump an appearance fee for his 2011 “roast.”

Then there were payments totaling nearly $1.9 million from a man in New York City who sells sought-after tickets and one-of-a-kind experiences to wealthy clients.


Previously, The Post reported that the Trump Foundation appears to have violated laws against “self-dealing,” which prohibit nonprofit leaders from using charity money to help themselves. In particular, Trump appeared to use $258,000 from the charity to help settle lawsuits involving a golf course and an oceanside club. Trump also spent charity money to buy two portraits of himself, including one that he hung in the bar of one of his golf resorts in Florida.

“This is so bizarre, this laundry list of issues,” said Marc Owens, the longtime head of the Internal Revenue Service office that oversees nonprofit organizations who is now in private practice. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen this, and I’ve been doing this for 25 years in the IRS, and 40 years total.”

The laws governing the diversion of income into a foundation were written, in part, to stop charity leaders from funneling income that should be taxed into a charity and then using that money to benefit themselves. Such violations can bring monetary penalties, the loss of tax-exempt status, and even criminal charges in extreme cases.

Now you know why Donald Trump is not going to release his tax returns.

Notorious gangster Al Capone, basically the godfather of organized crime in the 1920’s, ended up in jail not on charges of racketeering, murder, and other crimes, but for tax evasion.

Short Takes

R.I.P. Shimon Peres, one of the founding fathers of Israel and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The Senate’s attempt to pass a government spending bill was blocked.

Over 83 million tuned in to watch the Clinton-Trump debate.

Consumer confidence in September rose to its highest level in nine years.

The Houston shooter was a big fan of the Third Reich.

Elon Musk wants to launch a mission to Mars.

Tropical Update: Invest 97L is east of the Lesser Antilles and could head west.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Short Takes

Secretary of State Kerry briefed the UN Security Council on the Syria ceasefire.

Charlotte police say the armed man shot and killed was warned several times to drop his weapon.

ISIS is on the verge of losing Mosul.

The Fed left interest rates unchanged.

Tropical Update: Karl is depressed and Lisa is still storming, but harmless to land.

The Tigers were rained out last night.  They’ll play a double header today against the Twins.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Short Takes

New York/New Jersey bombing suspect is captured after a gun battle.

The Syrian cease-fire ended.

Prosecutors say Gov. Christie knew about bridge lane closures.

Energy prices increased across the South thanks to a ruptured gasoline pipeline.

Pro-Putin parties show strength in local elections.

Tropical Update: TS Karl is going to stay clear of the East coast.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Short Takes

U.S. plans to increase number of refugees allowed into the country next year.

Hacked e-mails from Colin Powell label Trump as a “disgrace.”

Ford to move small car manufacturing to Mexico.

Arrest made in mosque attack in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Carla Hayden sworn in as new Librarian of Congress.

Tropical Update: TS Julia dumps rain on Georgia.

The Tigers beat the Twins 9-6 to move up to be 1 game back in the wild card chase.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

We’re In The Money

The Republicans have been telling us that President Obama’s economic policies would drag us into a depression and poverty would rise.

Well, they were wrong, weren’t they?

Americans last year reaped the largest economic gains in nearly a generation as poverty fell, health insurance coverage spread and incomes rose sharply for households on every rung of the economic ladder, ending years of stagnation.

The median household’s income in 2015 was $56,500, up 5.2 percent from the previous year — the largest single-year increase since record-keeping began in 1967, the Census Bureau said on Tuesday. The share of Americans living in poverty also posted the sharpest decline in decades.

The gains were an important milestone for the economic expansion that began in 2009. For the first time in recent years, the benefits of renewed prosperity are spreading broadly. And the data was released into a heated presidential race, where Democrats seized on them to promote Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and undercut Donald J. Trump’s dark assessment of the nation’s well-being.


With the presidential election looming in less than two months, the annual report provided immediate fodder.

“We lifted three and a half million people out of poverty, the largest one-year drop in poverty since 1968,” President Obama said on Tuesday at a rally in Philadelphia for Mrs. Clinton. “The uninsured rate is the lowest since they began keeping records. The pay gap between men and women shrank to the lowest level on record,” he said, adding, “Thanks, Obama.”

Mr. Trump, the Republican nominee, has repeatedly cited the stagnation of household income as evidence of a broader economic malaise. He did not address the new report directly at a rally in Clive, Iowa, but he said the Obama administration’s economic policies had failed.

Wrong again, dogbreath.  Thanks, Obama.

Short Takes

Wages shot up in 2015 with the biggest hike since 2007.

U.S. bombers send message to China, Russia, and North Korea.

Florida Zika outbreak hits 70 cases.

Supreme Court rejects early voting in Ohio.

NCAA pulls tournament games from North Carolina over bathroom bill.

Tropical Update: TS Julia heads north over northern Florida into Georgia.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Short Takes

Syria ceasefire takes effect.

Clinton campaign explains mishanded health scare.

President Obama will veto the bill that allows 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia.

Brazil ratifies Paris climate agreement.

The UN reports that Iran has kept to the nuclear arms agreement.

Kansas, Georgia, and Alabama must remove proof-of-citizenship from voter ID according to a federal court.

The Tigers beat the Twins 4-2.

Monday, September 12, 2016

In It For The Money

Donald Trump’s foundation seems to have one big beneficiary: Donald Trump.  Via the Washington Post:

The Donald J. Trump Foundation is not like other charities. An investigation of the foundation — including examinations of 17 years of tax filings and interviews with more than 200 individuals or groups listed as donors or beneficiaries — found that it collects and spends money in a very unusual manner.

For one thing, nearly all of its money comes from people other than Trump. In tax records, the last gift from Trump was in 2008. Since then, all of the donations have been other people’s money — an arrangement that experts say is almost unheard of for a family foundation.

Trump then takes that money and generally does with it as he pleases. In many cases, he passes it on to other charities, which often are under the impression that it is Trump’s own money.

To quote the immortal Archie Bunker, it’s easy to be generous when it doesn’t cost you nothin’.

In two cases, he has used money from his charity to buy himself a gift. In one of those cases — not previously reported — Trump spent $20,000 of money earmarked for charitable purposes to buy a six-foot-tall painting of himself.

Money from the Trump Foundation has also been used for political purposes, which is against the law. The Washington Post reported this month that Trump paid a penalty this year to the Internal Revenue Service for a 2013 donation in which the foundation gave $25,000 to a campaign group affiliated with Florida Attorney General Pamela Bondi (R).


Trump started his foundation in 1987 with a narrow purpose: to give away some of the proceeds from his book “The Art of the Deal.”

Nearly three decades later, the Trump Foundation is still a threadbare, skeletal operation.

The most money it has ever reported having was $3.2 million at the end of 2009. At last count, that total had shrunk to $1.3 million. By comparison, Oprah Winfrey — who is worth $1.5 billion less than Trump, according to a Forbes magazine estimate — has a foundation with $242 million in the bank. At the end of 2014, the Clinton Foundation had $440 million in assets.

In a few cases, Trump seemed to solicit donations only to immediately give them away. But his foundation has also received a handful of bigger donations — including $5 million from professional-wrestling executives Vince and Linda McMahon — that Trump handed out a little at a time.

The foundation has no paid staffers. It has an unpaid board consisting of four Trumps — Donald, Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr. — and one Trump Organization employee.

In 2014, at last report, each said they worked a half-hour a week.

The Trump Foundation still gives out small, scattered gifts — which seem driven by the demands of Trump’s businesses and social life, rather than by a desire to support charitable causes.

So not only is it engaging in illegal political activity, it’s pretty obvious to even the most casual observer that the Trump Foundation is at best a false front erected to make him sound magnanimous and altruistic when in reality it’s just a phony operation that does little more than three-card monte the money around so that all it gives away is basically the amount of money they find in the couch.

But the Clinton Foundation has got to be rotten because, y’know, Bill Clinton.  I mean, c’mon; nobody gives millions of dollars to fight childhood AIDS in Africa and wipe out malaria just out of the goodness of their heart, right?  They’ve got to be hiding something.

Okay, that’s enough sarcasm for Monday.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Short Takes

73 Syria aid groups suspend cooperation with U.N.

Wells Fargo hit with $185 million in fines for setting up fake accounts.

NASA launches probe to bring back pieces of an asteroid.

Car with gas cylinders near Notre Dame in Paris baffles police.

Dozens stuck overnight at 10,000 feet in the air over the Alps.

FAA issues warnings about Samsung smartphones on planes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Buying In Bulk

We know that Donald Trump paid off Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi so that she wouldn’t join in the lawsuit against Trump University.  But she wasn’t the only one.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton moved to muzzle a former state regulator who says he was ordered in 2010 to drop a fraud investigation into Trump University for political reasons.

Paxton’s office issued a cease and desist letter to former Deputy Chief of Consumer Protection John Owens after he made public copies of a 14-page internal summary of the state’s case against Donald Trump for scamming millions from students of his now-defunct real estate seminar.

That story is from June, but along with this story about Trump donating to Chris Christie around the time of a settlement regarding New Jersey casinos, and you’re beginning to see a pattern here: buy in bulk and save.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Clintonomics: We, Not Me

Hillary Clinton went to Michigan to deliver her speech on the economy.

Mrs. Clinton called for making the biggest infrastructure investment — $275 billion — since World War II, and urged aggressive spending on green energy to counter China and Germany. And she repeated her plans to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for in-state middle-class families.

And she sharply criticized important elements of Mr. Trump’s tax cut plans, particularly the elimination of the estate tax and his plan to cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent; she said his plan for business owners included what she called the “Trump loophole,” which would “allow him to pay less than half the current tax rate on income from many of his own companies.”

She characterized her opponent’s economic doctrine as a “more extreme version of the failed theory of trickle-down economics” mixed with his own “outlandish Trumpian ideas that even Republicans reject.”

And she rejected Mr. Trump’s promises to ease financial regulation and do away with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which he calls detrimental to average Americans.

“Even conservative experts say Trump’s agenda will pull our economy back into recession,” and cause the loss of 3.4 million jobs, Mrs. Clinton said, pointing to an analysis for Moody’s Analytics led by Mark Zandi, who advised Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Mrs. Clinton’s remarks often transcended policy, as she sought to portray Mr. Trump as an out-of-touch businessman who would squash the working class. She talked about her grandfather’s years of labor in a lace mill in Scranton, Pa., and her father’s small drapery-printing business in Chicago.

“This is personal for me,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I am the product of the American middle class.”

The major difference that I see between what Hillary Clinton put forth and that by Donald Trump earlier in the week is that while neither of the candidates came up with radical new ideas — even Ms. Clinton’s most ardent backers will admit that there’s nothing in her speech that we didn’t hear from every other Democrat running for president since 1932 (updating the WiFi reference from the REA) — Mr. Trump focuses on the individual (I’ll cut your taxes, I’ll find you a job), Ms. Clinton’s plan requires all of us to participate.  We instead of Me.

That’s a major difference between the two parties.  The Republicans focus on merits of rugged individualism, the small business owner, and the family values as if they all existed outside of any community responsibility.  Of course it’s all right to be against gay marriage if you’re not gay or oppose reproductive rights if your wife doesn’t mind being told what to do with her body.  It’s perfectly okay to home-school your children so that they don’t find out that Jesus didn’t have a pet T-Rex.  The government shouldn’t tell you what to do, although there’s nothing wrong with you telling someone else how to live their life.  And paying taxes just takes money out of your pocket to give it to someone who will spend it on booze or worse.  Oh, yes, let’s all talk about how much I love my country, but let’s make sure that everyone agrees with me first, okay?

To be fair, it hasn’t always been that way with the Republicans.  They used to be very community oriented and it was a Republican president who spent the most money on a government infrastructure project — the interstate highway system — in the history of the country.  (The fact that the underlying idea behind the interstates was to provide the military with unfettered coast-to-coast highways to defend against the Red Tide was only a minor selling point.)  But in the last forty years, the GOP has turned into the What’s In It For Me? party, and Donald Trump is the unabashed symbol of it all.

The Democrats would rather get us all involved, even if we might have different family structures or ambitions.  As their nominee once wrote, it takes a village — we all participate — and as we work together, nothing can stop us from achieving greatness.  Yes, we have to pay our taxes, but that keeps the roads and schools open, and if we help those with the least, it benefits us all.

There have been some notable failures and unintended consequences in those noble if sometimes naive plans to help us all, but what matters is that the motives were to support the community and all of us and appealing to the better nature in us to help the other person first.  It’s why we have a police force and a fire department and a water and sewer system that are publicly operated, not relying on an AR-15 and a garden hose next to the outhouse.

Our economy has swung from the right to the left — the robber barons of 1898 vs. the New Deal of 1933 — and back again — The Great Society of 1965 vs. Trickle-Down of 1981 — and spent most of it somewhere in between.  Based on what we’ve heard from Mr. Me Trump and Ms. We Clinton, we’re better off going with Us.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Trumponomics: The 2016 Edsel

When the Ford Motor Company introduced the Edsel in September 1957, they made a huge deal about claiming it was a totally new car with features never before offered on an automobile and styling that defied convention.  The company created a separate division for Edsel, invested millions of dollars in advertising and ballyhoo, and the world waited with bated breath to see this revolutionary new car.

Well, we all know what happened.

1958 Edsel Bermuda

1958 Edsel Bermuda

The 1958 Edsel was basically a redressed Ford or Mercury depending on which model was ordered, and the revolutionary new features turned out to be either gadgets that could be picked up from the J.C. Whitney catalogue or gimmicks such as the floating-dome speedometer and the push-button transmission mounted in the steering wheel hub that were a distraction and a danger to the driver.

And the car was not very well-built.  It was rushed into production and had flaws as it came off the line.  So despite all the pre-sale hoopla, it turned out to be just another car with an appeal to no one.

The Edsel came to mind when I read what Donald Trump’s “major economic policy” had in store.  Delivered at the Detroit Economic Club and read from a Teleprompter, Mr. Trump revived tried-and-failed economic ideas that were clunky old GOP policies such as massive tax cuts for the rich, simplifying the tax code, and ballooning the deficit, all paid for by the yuuge number of jobs that would be created out of thin air; nothing we haven’t heard from Republicans from Herbert Hoover to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.  The difference yesterday was that, like the Edsel, it was dressed up in Trump drag with the usual promises of being the greatest economic restoration since the New Deal.

Mr. Trump also promised to reduce regulations on business — another oldie but a goodie from the 1950’s — and bring back coal and oil as energy sources.  (At one point I had to laugh out loud when he said that Hillary Clinton, who supports renewable energy, represented the past while he, the advocate of coal and oil, represented the future.  That would be true if this was 1816.)  He also wants to wall us off from the world in terms of trade — an idea that runs counter to most of the Republican mantra of free trade — and slap tariffs on countries such as China.  Gee, I wonder how China would retaliate?

We have seen the results of Mr. Trump’s economic ideas.  They were the backbone of Ronald Reagan’s administration which resulted in a massive deficit and eleven tax hikes during his term.  The first Clinton administration was able to pull it back and hand George W. Bush a surplus, which he promptly pissed away just in time to trigger the 2008 recession from which we’re barely recovered.  It’s also been done in microcosm in the state of Kansas where Gov. Sam Brownback has turned a prosperous state into a prairie version of the Great Depression.  (When Gov. Brownback launched his plan, he boasted that Kansas would become a model for other states to follow.  Yes; watch what he did and do the exact opposite.  Good modeling.)

It didn’t take the Ford Motor Company more than about six months to realize that the Edsel was a disaster.  The Edsel Division was merged with Lincoln and Mercury and the 1959 models were cut back to one basic car with different trim levels, and by the time the 1960 model year came around, it was nothing more than a Ford with different trim.  The plug was mercifully pulled a month after the 1960’s were rolled out and Edsel became a synonym for a colossal failure on every scale: scope, objective, and results.

But at least Ford knew when to get out.  The Republicans keep badge-engineering their 1958 models with new gimmicks, hoping that there’s an electorate that will fall for it yet again.


Footnote for antique car fans: A vestige of Edsel survived when Ford brought out the Comet in 1960.  Originally intended as the Edsel version of the compact Ford Falcon, the Comet was a stand-alone brand sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealers and was an instant success, selling more in the first year than all the Edsels in its three-year run.  In 1962 it became the Mercury Comet and was sold in various generations until 1977.