Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Something to Know - 1 November

Steve Breen Comic Strip for October 31, 2018

Trick or Treat?

Trump's Corruption: The Definitive List

The many ways that the president, his family and his aides are lining their own pockets.

They don't even try very hard to hide it.

President Trump, his family and more than a few of his appointees are using his presidency to enrich themselves. They are spending taxpayer dollars for their own benefit. They are accepting sweetheart deals from foreigners. And they are harnessing the power of the federal government on behalf of their businesses.

There's a word for this: corruption.

Given how widespread Trumpian corruption has become, we thought it was time to make a list. It's meant to be a definitive list of self-dealing by the president, his family, his staff or his friends — since he began running for president. To qualify, an incident needs to seem highly credible, even if it remains unresolved, and needs to involve making money.

Compiling the list made us understand why some historians believe Trump's administration is the most corrupt since at least Warren Harding's, of 1920s Teapot Dome fame. Trump administration officials and people close to them are brashly using power to amass perks and cash. They are betting that they can get away with it. So far, Congress has let them.

Here's the list, sorted into thematic categories:

Trump and Family

Foreigners are paying the Trumps.

A few days after the 2016 election, the government of Kuwait canceled a planned event at the Four Seasons Hotel. It instead held the event — a celebration of Kuwait's National Day — at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

That celebration fits a pattern. Officials from foreign governments have realized they can curry favor with Trump by spending money at his properties. The list of governments includes Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Turkey, China, India, Afghanistan and Qatar. Some may have done so even if he were not the president, but others are well aware of what they are doing.

The Constitution forbids federal officials from accepting gifts, known as emoluments, from foreign powers, unless they have received congressional approval. Congressional Democrats have sued Trump for violating this clause, and the case is now in federal court.

Americans are paying the Trumps.

American officials and business leaders have also spent money at Trump properties, sometimes in an apparent effort to please the president. Gov. Paul LePage of Maine last year stayed at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Other Republicans have held campaign fund-raisers and party events at the properties. So have corporate lobbyists.


"National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association Dinner at the Trump Hotel where I am drinking Trump coffee," Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, posted on Instagramlast year.

senatorchuckgrassleyNational Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association Dinner at the Trump Hotel where I am drinking Trump coffee.

Trump Inc. is expanding overseas.

During Trump's presidency, his companies have pushed to expand overseas, with help from foreign governments. One example: In May, an Indonesian real-estate project that involves the Trump Organization reportedly received a $500 million loan from a company owned by the Chinese government. Two days later, Trump tweeted that he was working to lift sanctions on a Chinese telecommunications firm with close ties to the government — over the objections of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. He ultimately did lift the sanctions.


Trump's businesses have also moved to expand in India, the Dominican Republic and Indonesia, using deals directly with foreign governments.

Kushner Inc. is wooing foreign investment.

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a top aide, has also reportedly been using his position to help his family business — Kushner Companies, also a real-estate company. Kushner's sister, Nicole Meyer, has braggedabout the company's high-level ties when trying to attract Chinese investment in a New Jersey apartment complex. The Kushners have wooed Chinese investors despite warnings from American counterintelligence officials that China is using the investments to sway Trump administration policy.

The Kushner company also successfully lobbied the Qatari government to invest in 666 Fifth Avenue, a financially troubled luxury building. The company's dealings with Middle Eastern countries are especially problematic because Jared Kushner is one of the administration's top policymakers for the region and has played a central role in policy toward Qatar.

The presidency has become a branding opportunity.

The president has played golf at his properties dozens of times since taking office. He refers to his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, as the winter White House. Shortly after his election, he celebrated New Year's along with 800 guests there, with tickets costing more than $500. And Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump adviser, once encouraged people to buy clothes from Ivanka Trump's line — while Conway was giving a television interview from the White House.

These moves are intended, at least partly, to bring attention and ultimately customers to Trump's businesses. Of course, some of Trump's critics have responded in kind, refusing to stay at or live in a Trump-branded property since he won the election. But in other ways, the presidency has clearly helped his bottom line. One example: The Mar-a-Lago club has doubled its membership rates.

Taxpayers are subsidizing the Trumps.

Trump has visited or stayed at one of his properties almost one out of every three days that he has been president, according to both The Wall Street Journal and NBC News. Like previous presidents, Trump travels with a large group of staff and security personnel, and American taxpayers typically foot at least part of the bill for the trips. Unlike previous presidents, Trump is directing money to his own business on his trips.

In one three-month period last year, the Secret Service spent about $63,000 at Mar-a-Lago and more than $137,000 on golf carts at Trump's Florida and New Jersey clubs.

Trump Inc. gets special protection.

The president personally intervened in a plan to relocate the F.B.I.'s Washington headquarters, apparently to protect Trump International Hotel, which is about a block away. If the F.B.I. had moved, its current site would most likely have been turned into a commercial development, and the long construction process — as well as potential for a new hotel on the site — could have hurt the Trump hotel.

Trump stopped this plan, and the White House has instead decided to build a new F.B.I. headquarters on the current site. A report by the inspector general found that officials gave misleading answers to Congress about Trump's role and the project's cost.

Trump's Cabinet, Aides and Allies

Friendly businesses also get special treatment.

The Education Department during the Obama administration aggressively regulated for-profit colleges — many of which have miserable records, often taking money from students without providing a useful education. Trump chose Betsy DeVos, a longtime advocate of these colleges and an investor in them, as his education secretary. She, not surprisingly, has gone easy on for-profit colleges. Among other moves, she has reassigned the members of an department team investigating potentially fraudulent activities at for-profit colleges.

DeVos is the most blatant example of administration officials protecting companies where they once worked, but there are many others. More than 164 former lobbyists work in the administration, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, including several who regulate the industries that once paid their salaries. Geoff Burr, who pushed for more lax workplace safety laws when he was the chief lobbyist for a construction group, now works at the Department of Labor. Andrew Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, was previously a lobbyist whose firm was paid millions of dollars by companies whose industries he now regulates.

Family, friends and donors get perks.

The president and his aides have repeatedly shown they are willing to use the government's prestige and power to help their friends and relatives make money.

Among the examples:

Trump suggested to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan during a meeting at Mar-a-Lago in February 2017 that Abe grant a coveted operating license to a casino company owned by Sheldon Adelson, who donated at least $20 million to Trump's presidential campaign.

Ben Carson, the housing and urban development secretary, let his sonhelp organize an official department event and invite people with whom the son had potential business dealings.

Scott Pruitt, the former E.P.A. head, asked his staff members to contact Republicans donors with the goal of helping his wife find a job. Pruitt also rented a condo on Capitol Hill for $50 a night, well below market value, from the wife of an energy lobbyist whose project the E.P.A. approved last March. Pruitt's many scandals led to his resignation in July.

Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, used interviews with Chinese and Chinese-American media to raise her father's profile. He is a shipping magnate whose business transports goods between the United States and Asia, and he sat next to her during the interviews.

And although it doesn't quite rise to the same level of the other examples here: White House staffers receive a discount of up to 70 percent on Trump-branded merchandise at the president's Bedminster, N.J., golf club, reportedly at the president's recommendation.

Cabinet officials make unethical stock trades.

Several Trump officials — current and former — have traded stocks while serving in top government positions. In some cases, they appear to have made policy decisions benefiting the companies in which they owned a stake.

Tom Price, Trump's first secretary of health and human services, epitomized this form of corruption. Trump chose him despite his history of using his seat in Congress to make money. Price had a long record of putting the interests of drug companies above those of taxpayers and patients — and then investing in those drug companies on the side.

Brenda Fitzgerald, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, committed a more mild version of this sin. She purchased shares in food, drug and tobacco companies after taking charge of an agency that regulates them — and that aims to reduce smoking. After her purchases became public, she resigned.

Finally, Wilbur Ross, Trump's commerce secretary, has mixed government business and his own business in multiple ways. He held on to investments — and then appears to have lied to government ethics officials about those investments. He shorted the stock of a company about which he appeared to have advance notice of bad news. He also met with the chief executive of Chevron, even though his wife owned a substantial investment — which, according to Forbes, "put himself at risk of violating a criminal conflict-of-interest law."

Trump's orbit receives cash.

Michael Cohen — Trump's former lawyer and fixer, who has since turned on him — received at least $1 million from AT&T, Novartis and Korea Aerospace Industries shortly after the 2016 election. They were supposedly paying for his insight into the Trump administration.

Corey Lewandowski, the former manager of Trump's campaign, is paid for work that looks very much like lobbying — such as participating in a lobbying firm's phone calls with clients and doing work on behalf of T-Mobile, the telecommunications company firm. But Lewandowski has not registered as a lobbyist and says he does not need to do so.

Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, reportedly used his position to offer private briefings to a Russian oligarch to whom he owed millions of dollars. Manafort saw the briefings as a way to "get whole."

Cabinet officials take junkets.

Trump officials have made a habit of billing American taxpayers for their personal travel. Ryan Zinke, Trump's secretary of the interior, chartered a $12,000 flight to fly out of Las Vegas, where he had given a 12-minute speech to a hockey team owned by a businessman who donated to his congressional campaign.

David Shulkin, the secretary of veterans affairs, charged taxpayers for a trip to Europe that included stopovers at Wimbledon and Westminster Abbey, plus a river cruise for him and his wife. The resulting outcry appears to have played a role in his departure.

Pruitt, the former head of the E.P.A., chartered flights for questionable travel, among many other things. He also pushed to fly Delta rather than the government's contract carrier, to accrue frequent flier miles. He flew first class and stayed in hotels that were more expensive than those allowed by government standards. And he let lobbyists help arrange foreign trips for him.

Brock Long, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, spent $151,000 on government vehicles without authorization, including to travel to his North Carolina home. He was ordered to repay the government.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, looked into whether he could use a military plane to fly him to Europe for his honeymoon. Later, he used military planes for several trips. The Treasury Department's inspector general concluded that Mnuchin broke no laws by doing so, but criticized Mnuchin's insufficient explanation for why he needed to spend $800,000 on the trips.

And Price, the former health secretary, spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on private planes. His history of unethical stock trading didn't keep Trump from naming Price to the cabinet. But the private-plane scandal received enough attention that the White House eventually forced Price to resign.

Trump's team enjoys interior decorating.

The pettiest kind of Trumpian corruption takes the form of interior decorating.

Zinke, the interior secretary, spent $139,000 in taxpayer money on new doors for his office. Carson, the secretary of health and human services, picked out a dining set for his office that cost $31,000 — and then gave Congress contradictory explanations for the purchase and blamed it on his wife. Pruitt ordered a $43,000 soundproof phone booth installed in his office and appears to have violated federal law by failing to inform Congress about it.

Where is Congress?

It has shirked its constitutional duty.

The biggest scandal of all, however, is not even the corruption of the Trump administration. It's the inaction of Congress.


The founders were well aware that the government they were creating could end up with corrupt or unethical leaders, all the way up to the president. That's why the Constitution gives Congress tremendous power to investigate and even remove officials in the executive branch.

Yet the current congressional leaders — the Republican leaders — have refused to do so. They have shirked their duty to act as a check on the president and his appointees. They have instead defended Trump and made excuses on his behalf. They have enabled the most corrupt administration of our lifetimes.


"Yes, yes, but I bring that out in people. I do. I'm not saying that's an asset or a liability, but I do bring that out. ...I bring rage out. I do bring rage out. I always have."
- Candidate Donald J. Trump in April, 2016

Something to Know - 31 October

Jim Morin Comic Strip for October 31, 2018

Not saying that this poll predicts what the election will determine, but this poll, of all done in the 2016 election, was the closest of all national polls in the actual outcome.  I send this out to relieve the angst that has a tendency to creep its ugly presence any time the supreme tangerine howls on the TV.  Still, we need to make sure the vote gets out:

New Poll from USC Dornsife/LA Times Finds That Voters Who Hate Both Parties Could Decide Midterm Elections

The study, published Oct. 29, found that independent voters are likely to vote Democratic.Graphic source: Dennis Lan, USC Dornsife

Haters gonna hate, but they might also decide the fate of the midterm elections. Voters who are markedly unhappy with both major political parties could swing left and clinch a House victory for the Democrats, according to a new poll released Monday by USC Dornsife and the Los Angeles Times.

On a certain level, it's nothing new for the minority party to snag votes and seats during the midterm elections, riding a wave of majority party resentment. FiveThirtyEight's forecast one week from the election found there was a roughly 80 percent chance Democrats would regain the House. But the energy pushing the left forward was unexpected.

"I was a little surprised that the result that we found about people who dislike both parties leaning towards the Democrats as far as they were," said David Lauter, the Los Angeles Times' Washington, D.C. bureau chief. Lauter expected the voters to be closer to an even split. The recent spike in the poll could be attributed to a reaction against President Trump, said Lauter, rather than being drawn to anything the Democrats were doing.

During the last presidential election, the same USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll was one of the few that predicted a Trump victory. Lauter, however, called the 2016 poll "inaccurate in the right direction" and "right for the wrong reason," because it predicted Trump's victory via popular vote.

In the latest poll, the voters are labeled colloquially as the "hold your nose and vote" contingent, and make up a significant portion of upcoming midterm voters. The poll of 4,711 respondents across the country was conducted over the last week and found Democrats leading Republicans with a 17-point advantage, when voters were asked which way they planned to vote. That's up from 13 points the previous week.

The midterm poll respondents were adult United States residents who consented to participate in a trio of tracking polls leading up to Nov. 6, via cell phones, landlines or no phone at all. Those who were not online already were issued internet-connected tablets.

Jill Darling, the survey director at USC's Center for Economic and Social Research, cautioned that polling, which provides crucial insight and direct access to voters and, comes with a margin of error. Lauter reiterated a similar point. "People don't like to think about probability, they like to think about certainty," he said. "If you tell someone that candidate X is ahead, people think that candidate X is going to win. It doesn't. It means candidate X will win most of the time."

The poll was focused on party over candidate, said Darling. "What we're really looking for is the size of the advantage that one party might have over the other."

This survey group is not the same one that swung the election to the right in 2016, Darling said.

That contingent consisted of people disenchanted by the Democratic contenders and former President Barack Obama.

"This group are mainly independents, lower education, people who are registered as non-Democrats or non-Republicans," said Darling.

That group is representative of ardent voters like Sarah Ball, a 25-year-old registered Democrat with fiscal conservative leanings.

"I don't necessarily dislike what Democrats are doing. I'm relatively neutral on that. But I have an extreme, visceral negative reaction to what Republicans are doing," said Ball, a Seattle insurance broker.

"My mom was very much an advocate for 'You have to vote because you're a Hispanic woman,'" Ball added. In an interview with Annenberg Media, she said that while she fell in line with her more liberal friends on Democrat social philosophies, she was a strong supporter of 2nd Amendment rights and increased military funding.

Robert Young is a 22-year-old political economy major at USC. He identifies as an independent but is a registered Republican, "as of now." If the Republicans could update their policies with the environment and social issues, Young would be more passionate about them.

Young attributed his migration towards the center to the Democratic Party's positions on the environment and social issues, which Young holds dear, but that wasn't all. "President Trump and his administration, and his actions, definitely aided with that push to the left."

Young believes that in the future, the party will have to grapple with a growing populace of people who are fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Still, Young remains hopeful.

"I hope that over time the Republican Party starts to see that changing demographics and starting putting forth policies that kind of reflect that belief," he said, "and if that ever happens I will definitely come back to the Republican Party."



"Yes, yes, but I bring that out in people. I do. I'm not saying that's an asset or a liability, but I do bring that out. ...I bring rage out. I do bring rage out. I always have."
Candidate Donald J. Trump in April, 2016

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Andy Borowitz

Trump Strips Citizenship from Children of Immigrants, Thus Disqualifying Himself from Presidency

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Donald J. Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order stripping the children of immigrant mothers of their citizenship, thus disqualifying himself from being President of the United States.

The constitutional crisis came to light moments after the signing ceremony, when a fourth grader visiting the Oval Office on a school tour pointed out the far-reaching legal ramifications of the order.

"Hey, wait, wasn't your mother from Scotland?" the student, Tracy Klugian, asked. "That means you're not a citizen and you can't be President."

Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to Trump and the author of the executive order, quickly grabbed the document from the Oval Office desk, panic spreading across his face as he reread it.

"Oh, my God," Miller gasped. "What have I done?"

Trump immediately called Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh for help in voiding the executive order, but Kavanaugh was unable to take the call because he was "sleeping off a rough night," an aide to the Justice said.

Asked to comment on Trump's predicament, former President Barack Obama said, "I can't imagine what it would be like not to be an American citizen. Of course, my mom was born here, so I'm good."


"Yes, yes, but I bring that out in people. I do. I'm not saying that's an asset or a liability, but I do bring that out. ...I bring rage out. I do bring rage out. I always have."
- Candidate Donald J. Trump in April, 2016