Your Virtual Front Page, Monday, October 3, 2016

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Here’s what we have on this auspicious day:

  1. U.S. Ends Syria Talks Over Russia’s Role in Aleppo Attacks (NYT) — And it that’s not bad enough, consider this related story, which if anything is more ominous…
  2. Russia suspends weapons-grade plutonium deal with US (BBC) — This was one of those reassuring byproducts of the end of the Cold War. Now, Putin’s backing away from it.
  3. Colombia and FARC scramble to rescue peace deal amid worries of return to war (The Guardian) — Talk about an election shocker. All those stories about peace at last; now this…
  4. The bombshell about Trump’s taxes (NYT) — Yeah, this broke over the weekend, but I didn’t post about it then, so it still makes the VFP today. This is such a big story, the rival Washington Post wrote a piece on how this fell into the NYT‘s lap.
  5. N.Y. attorney general orders Trump Foundation to cease fundraising (WashPost) — This shaped up to be a pretty big news day, but where would we have been without Trump and his best bud Putin?
  6. Years before his ‘Aleppo moment,’ Gary Johnson showed little interest in the details of governing (WashPost) — Hey, Johnson got some major media attention! But it doesn’t help! Sorry, Doug.

Hey, I would have included something light, to help with the mix, but there was too much news.

58 thoughts on “Your Virtual Front Page, Monday, October 3, 2016

  1. Mark Stewart

    I looked at the cartoon, and thought he did another great one!

    Then I realized this year he could have left the US flag atop the flagpole without detracting from the message. Two birds…or at least a broadening the theme.

    Reply
    1. Bart

      Absolutely Burl! Now that is REAL news and should detract our attention away from minor things like the upcoming election. I read with breathless anticipation the details about the robbery. Lost a lot of sleep last night over it. :-(

      Reply
    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      The only news I want to read about the Kardashians would be headlined, “You will never again have to hear of Donald Trump (or the Kardashians).”

      But since I live in a world that derives its cultural cues from “reality” TV, that’s not in the cards…

      Reply
  2. bud

    4. The tax bombshell should end the contest. Trump has based his credibility as a candidate on this proposition that he is this brilliant business man. In a nation of 320 million souls only Doug still actually believes this bull

    Reply
    1. Douglas Ross

      What was the bombshell? That he lost a bunch of money more than two decades ago? And has made it back several times over since then? I suppose the bud tax plan would require businesses that lose money to pay taxes on the losses as well. The New York Times got a 3.5 million dollar REFUND last year without paying any taxes. Is that the type of business model we should look for? In the last ten years, it has lost 2 billion in market cap (50%). Again, are the people running the NY Times good businessmen or not?

      1995, wasn’t that when Bill Clinton was having sex with a young intern in the Oval Office and Hillary blamed the victim? Yeah, losing money in business and then making it all back is MUCH worse than that.

      Reply
      1. Douglas Ross

        “Warren Buffett wishes he never got involved in the largest private equity deal ever. Given the outcome, that’s not much of a surprise.
        In his annual letter to shareholders, released Saturday morning, Buffett says Berkshire Hathaway BRK.A -0.24% lost $873 million on his wrong-way bet on Energy Future Holdings. And Buffett says it was his bad bet. He says he made the investment without consulting his long-time lieutenant Charlie Munger. He also said Berkshire no longer holds any of Energy Future’s debt, having sold its remaining stake last year.”

        Buffet – loser.

        McClatchy, owner of The State newspapers and others: net income last year: 300 million loss. 11 million dollar refund. Bunch of losers who can’t figure out how to make money in the Internet age.

        Amazon, 2014, 200 million dollar loss. Shut them down! Failures, all of them!

        Reply
    2. Claus

      What bombshell is bud talking about? Trump did nothing illegal or wrong, he used the tax code as written. I can guarantee that everyone here uses every tax break that they are eligible for and aware of.

      The only bombshell I’m aware of this morning is that I am amazed that Brad allows you to personally insult another regular member on his blog.

      Reply
    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      Everybody, Bud didn’t introduce the word “bombshell.” I did. Not that I was particularly impressed one way or the other by the story, but it caused a sensation over the weekend, and that’s what caused me to use the word.

      I had a bit of a problem with the story, that interferes with my ability to decide what to think. It was this: the story, and the stories about the story, said Trump “could have” avoided taxes for 18 years. They can’t say he did, because he won’t release his taxes.

      That might be an unimportant hole in the story, since Trump and his surrogates have not tried to negate it by saying he did, too, pay taxes in those years. They have instead suggested he’s a “genius” for not having done so. But still, the fuzziness bothered me. The Fair Witness in me objects that implications and failures to refute implications don’t add up to facts.

      This is, as with so many things about Trump, a unique situation. When you have a normal candidate — let’s take George H.W. Bush, an exemplar of the governing elite, the man with the ultimate resume — you want to look at the sources of his wealth and see if there are conflicts or potential conflicts, as Bryan and Lynn suggest.

      With Trump, aside from the Russian connection, the main thing we want to know is whether this cheesy wheeler-dealer even PAID taxes on his supposed billions.

      As Charles Krauthammer wrote on Thursday, before the NYT story broke, his implied admission in the debate that he hasn’t been paying taxes is a “time bomb” for Trump:

      By conventional measures — poise, logic, command of the facts — she won the debate handily. But when it comes to moving the needle, conventional measures don’t apply this year. What might, however, move the needle is not the debate itself but the time bomb Trump left behind.

      His great weakness is his vanity. He is temperamentally incapable of allowing any attack on his person to go unavenged. He is particularly sensitive on the subject of his wealth. So central to his self-image is his business acumen that in the debate he couldn’t resist the temptation to tout his cleverness on taxes. To an audience of 86 million, he appeared to concede that he didn’t pay any. “That makes me smart,” he smugly interjected.

      Big mistake. The next day, Clinton offered the obvious retort: “If not paying taxes makes him smart, what does that make all the rest of us?” Meanwhile, Trump has been going around telling Rust Belt workers, on whom his electoral college strategy hinges and who might still believe that billionaires do have some obligation to pay taxes, that “I am your voice.”…

      I’m not sure that I agree with Krauthammer that that is a game-changer for his supporters, who have proved immune to every other deal-breaker from this guy. But if Krauthammer’s right, to the extent that the NYT story leads toward our finding out that he did NOT pay the taxes that the rest of us pay, it could be significant.

      Reply
      1. Bryan Caskey

        “With Trump, aside from the Russian connection, the main thing we want to know is whether this cheesy wheeler-dealer even PAID taxes on his supposed billions.

        So what if it turns out that Trump didn’t owe taxes for years because of his huge loss/ deduction in 1995? I mean, if he’s not paying taxes because he’s doing something illegal, that’s one thing. No one likes a tax cheat. But I have a hard time understanding the argument that he should pay taxes he doesn’t owe.

        No one likes to pay taxes they don’t owe, either.

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          You’re responding like a lawyer, Mr. Clinton. (I’m biting my lip and giving you a thumbs-up as I say this.)

          This is on a more elemental level. Joe Voter: “I work hard and barely scrape by, and pay taxes out the wazoo. This guy makes billions and doesn’t pay taxes at all. Is that fair? No f___ing way.”

          It plays to the “system is rigged” populist narrative so popular these days. But more than that, it goes to what we think of Trump, personally.

          Finally, as we all know, “legal” and “right” are not the same things. When you do something perceived as bad or shifty, and protest that it was “legal,” you lose a lot of people…

          Reply
          1. Claus

            Brad do you take all of the tax deductions you’re legally available for when completing your tax forms?

            Prior to the legal write-off, I’m betting Trump paid more taxes in a year than most will in a lifetime. I’m still amazed as how people can pay nothing into the IRS and still receive a refund.

            Reply
          2. Bryan Caskey

            If I’m responding like a lawyer, I guess I’m guilty on that one, but please don’t ever compare me to Bill Clinton again. That’s the kind of thing might get you an appointment with me at dawn with pistols in an earlier age. :)

            I get your point that it might not play well with blue-collar guy working in a factory in Ohio. But I don’t think that same guy has any big love for the IRS, either. I could just as easily see that guy saying something like “If Trump figured out a way to zero his tax liability, good for him. I can’t stand paying taxes, either“.

            And as for “legal and “right” not being the same thing, please. We’re talking about tax laws here, not malum in se type stuff.

            See that? I tossed a Latin phrase in there to remind you I’m a lawyer. :)

            Reply
            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              This is definitely a question of right and wrong.

              Paying one’s taxes, participating in the support of the civilization in which you live, is the most basic kind of civic virtue.

              If you’re making millions, or billions, and you’re not paying any taxes, if you have a conscience as a citizen, you’ve got to know you’re doing something wrong.

              This is a person running to be president of the United States. No, he never served in the military (any more than I have), or in any other way performed any kind of overt service to his country. But I certainly expect someone running to lead us to have done the very, bare minimum expected of a citizen.

              And paying your taxes is the bare minimum. It’s the ante that allows you to play the hand.

              Yes, personal avarice is rampant in the land, and millions of people in this country think it’s fine to aspire to pay no taxes. I find that appalling.

              I don’t pay as much in taxes as I used to, but I do pay taxes. I’d like to make a nice, big salary again so I would pay a lot more in taxes, which I would pay gladly, just as I always did.

              Trump wants us to think he’s clever for not paying taxes. You go right ahead and revel in your notion of cleverness, Donald. But don’t you DARE suggest you have the standing as a citizen to be president of the United States…

              Reply
              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Years ago, I was watching a documentary about organized crime on TV. It showed a clip from a congressional hearing or something back in the ’50s — maybe the Kefauver hearings.

                I forget exactly how the exchange went, but it was something like this: One of the alleged mobsters was asserting that he was upstanding citizen. He was asked in what WAY he qualified as that. “I paid my tax,” he said. The room guffawed at him.

                And well they might have. Back in the ’50s, long before it became fashionable to HATE government and consider it a virtue to avoid paying for it, that was seen as being such a minimal thing — we expected even serial murderers to at LEAST pay their taxes” — that it was laughable to congratulate yourself for doing so….

                Reply
              2. Bryan Caskey

                “Trump wants us to think he’s clever for not paying taxes.”

                First, he’s not “clever” for this. It’s not a super-secret tax strategy to take a loss on your taxes and offset future income. It’s just basic stuff.

                Second, you say “I do pay taxes”. By this you mean you pay what you owe, correct? I assume you do not pay in excess of what you owe, do you?

                Let’s say that you suffered a huge casualty loss this year. Let’s say…oh I don’t know…your house was flooded because a dam burst upstream of you after heavy rains, and your entire house was flooded for about a day with the nastiest, foulest water you’ve ever known.

                Without flood insurance, you’d have maybe about $250,000 in a casualty loss if it’s your entire house that has to be knocked down and rebuilt. Would you claim this loss on your taxes and offset your income, or would you just ignore the unreimbursed loss of your home and pay the federal government money they were not legally entitled to because “It’s the ante”?

                Would you engage in charity to the federal government in this situation where you’re homeless, staying a hotel and having to rebuild your house without any insurance money? Becuase hey, you’ve got income this year. Got to pay your income tax, right?

                Reply
              3. Bryan Caskey

                “Paying one’s taxes [that are legally owed], participating in the support of the civilization in which you live, is the most basic kind of civic virtue.”

                I fixed it for you.

                Reply
              4. Claus

                Who was the last Democratic president to have served in the miltary? Carter? You blast Trump for not serving, I don’t recall Hillary serving either.

                Did Trump do anything illegal? No. Did he pay the amount the IRS said he owed? Yes. So what’s the problem?

                Trump has paid more in taxes in his lifetime than most communities or neighborhoods do combined.

                Reply
        2. Doug Ross

          ” It was this: the story, and the stories about the story, said Trump “could have” avoided taxes for 18 years.”

          Yeah, and it’s no big deal. I have a similar situation – my wife inherited part of a trust from her father’s estate that had about 20K in losses several years ago. Apparently, there are certain situations where a percentage of those losses can be applied to our join return to offset any gains. Haven’t taken advantage of that yet but it’s there. Now, the worst part of this is that it means I have to pay an accountant more money to keep track of these various loopholes, regulations, etc. rather than do my taxes myself. The tax code (one of the most despicable inventions of government) is ridiculous. No sane group of people would ever create such a monstrosity.

          Reply
  3. Mark Stewart

    It’s interesting to see the comments about Trump’s statements that combat veterans facing post traumatic stress are weak for seeking treatment.

    On one hand, after his comments last spring about McCain being a loser for having survived being a POW, this isn’t at all out of character. On the other, it’s enlightening how his supporters see his insults about being directed at others – not themselves; ever. Truth is Trump would insult just about everyone – except Putin.

    Doug sees a successful businessman; I see a playground bully motivated by his internal fears of failure, of being that loser he sees in everyone else.

    The question is really what is a leader? And what makes a leader? And then, why do people chose to follow who they do?

    Reply
    1. Claus

      This is the first I’m seeing anything about Trump saying PTSD veterans are weak. Do you have a source for that comment?

      I send weakness in the Clinton camp, they seem to be ramping up their level of paranoia.

      Reply
        1. Doug Ross

          The source tape says this:

          “When you talk about the mental health problems, when people come back from war and combat and they see things that maybe a lot of folks in this room have seen many times over and you’re strong and you can handle it but a lot of people can’t handle it.”

          Where did he say weak? He didn’t. Is there anything untrue about his actual words? Some people can’t handle the PTSD and commit suicide. Doesn’t make them weak and he never said it did.

          It’s amazing how every single word that comes out of Trump’s mouth is parsed, twisted, and analyzed. What the heck are all these people who now spend every waking moment focused on him going to do in November when the election is over? Oh yeah, they’ll go back to blaming Republicans for every problem in the country. You can’t be a liberal unless you can find someone else to blame.

          I actually kind of hope Hillary wins and Democrats take the Senate. Then they’ll own the next four years. Good luck with that…

          Reply
            1. Bryan Caskey

              Okay, I’m back from doing lawyer things. Here’s the answer sports fans:

              First of all, not even General George S. Patton, Jr. got away with shaming a soldier for being “shell-shocked” which is what we called PTSD before we really knew what it was. So, here’s a good guideline for you: If General Patton couldn’t get away with it, you can’t.

              So it doesn’t really have anything to do with whether you’re a veteran or served in combat, or just a regular ol’ shmo like me who is the only male member of my father’s side of the family not to have served in combat going back to at least WWI. (Yeah, I know.) Talking about PTSD is a delicate issue for everyone. Even Patton.

              With me so far?

              Okay, when you’re discussing PTSD in soldiers, you’re dealing with guys who have a warrior ethos that hates weakness. Soldiers are trained to be strong, to overcome the enemy, and to kill the enemy before the enemy kills them. The really weak guys are weeded out at the beginning in basic training, so the guys who end up being combat soldiers don’t think of themselves as weak. But the thing is, PTSD doesn’t have anything to do with being weak, or strong, or stout-hearted, or strong of mind, or anything like that. However, comments like Trump made sort of make it seem that way, and there are a lot of soldiers out there who erroneously think that having PTSD means they’re weak or that something is wrong with them.

              Here’s the reality: Think about a soldier who charges a machine gun nest and gets shot during that charge. Let’s say a bullet hits him in the upper leg, the bullet rips through his quadriceps and hamstring, causing massive shock and bleeding. If it hits his femur, the bullet shatters it. The bullet is going to do this no matter how strong or physically fit the guy is. It’s just a fact that the bullet is going to cause massive trauma. No one faults the guy for the bullet hurting him. There’s no shame in having a bullet hurt you. It’s not a sign of weakness. All soldiers understand that getting shot just happens in combat from time to time.

              Also, combat puts men (yes, ladies it’s still mostly men) under extreme levels of stress. I’m not talking about stress from traffic on 378 at rush hour when your late. I’m talking serious stress. If you think about it in a physical way, it’s like loading a guy up with 190 lbs. and telling him to run as fast as he can. Sure, he’ll run for a little while, but eventually he’ll collapse in a heap because the body can only take so much strain.

              PTSD is just like that bullet, or that weight, except it’s not something you can see. Accordingly, because its psychological and hidden inside you, the warrior ethos of “I’m a tough guy, and I’ll tough it out” somehow makes it seem like the soldier has to just keep on going, despite having very real damage. Accordingly, when we talk about being strong or weak in regards to PTSD, we’re doing a disservice to those with it, and (worse) we’re perpetuating the mythology that you can just be “strong” and gut it through your PTSD.

              No one calls a guy who gets shot weak or morally unfit. But there is a shame that goes along with PTSD, which thankfully, we are slowly eradicating. Trump’s comments were a gaffe because he characterized in a weak/strong manner. However, I don’t think he thought very deeply about those comments. I also don’t think he intended any insult to people with PTSD. I think he simply said something in-artful, without malice.

              There’s your answer.

              Reply
          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            He said “can’t handle it.” That’s where he messed up.

            Personally, I read what he said and decided it wasn’t so horrendous (especially by Trump standards), which is why I skipped over it for the VFP.

            But to the extent that it’s trouble for him, it’s those three words, “can’t handle it.”

            I didn’t serve. I’m not a combat veteran. I don’t get to say “can’t handle it” to those who did. Neither does Trump.

            Reply
            1. Mark Stewart

              It’s those words and his perspective behind them – which is the McCain connection.

              One leg of leadership is empathy. This is not a leg Trump stands on.

              Reply
              1. Claus

                I hear Hillary will stand on it, as long as she has her good doctor standing behind her with a syringe the magic juice and a post to prop herself up on. I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up like Michael Jackson and Prince. She was on something for the first debate… she’s usually not that perky and full of energy.

                Reply
              2. Doug Ross

                How would YOU describe the mindset of anyone who commits suicide? The word isn’t weakness (which Trump didn’t use). People in that situation can’t handle what they are experiencing and choose an alternative. Trump didn’t target anyone and didn’t belittle anyone. He stated a simple fact.

                If I can lift a 300 pound barbell that makes me strong. But if I can’t lift it, it doesn’t necessarily make me weak. Except in the eyes of Hans and Franz.

                Reply
                1. Mark Stewart

                  Most soldiers – or anyone else for that matter – do not kill themselves because of PTSD. Saying they aren’t strong is effectively saying they are weak.

  4. Doug Ross

    Trump’s business lost 900 million 20 years ago. The U.S. government has added 8000 times that amount to the debt during Obama’s tenure with no chance of paying it back in our lifetimes or our children’s lifetimes. If Trump is a failure, what’s that make Obama?

    Reply
  5. Doug Ross

    If you think Trump was awful for losing money in business and declaring bankruptcy, do you also believe that the auto industry should have been allowed to fail during the “Great” recession? Or do you think that Obama did the right thing by bailing them out? It’s okay for the government to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars from the Chinese to pay off private industries but Trump is an evil person for utilizing the tax code and bankruptcy laws created by the government to legally handle his financial situation?

    It’s a hypocritical position to vilify Trump and ignore what the government has been doing for decades.

    Reply
    1. Bryan Caskey

      I have no problem with Trump properly taking advantage of a deduction he is legally entitled to. For the people criticizing him, I’m confused as to why. What was he supposed to do, just ignore the loss and pay taxes he didn’t legally have to?

      I’ve yet to have anyone explain the “problem” with Trump and his tax deduction in 1995.

      Reply
      1. Bryan Caskey

        Related thought: I sort of thought that the whole reason for a candidate to release his tax documents was to prove that he had not made a profit as a result of political decisions he had made while previously in office. For example, we want to make sure a candidate was not receiving income from some industry while backing legislation that helps that industry, or not using insider trading based on his knowledge of legislation that was going to pass.

        Maybe the Russian question is enough, though.

        Reply
        1. Claus

          Where did the majority of the Clinton income come from last year? Weren’t they broke just a few years ago, yet now they’re buying million dollar properties that adjoin their current properties? Bill and Hillary must have great business sense to have such a drastic turn around in income.

          Reply
          1. Bryan Caskey

            “Where did the majority of the Clinton income come from last year?”

            It’s my understanding that there are a great many people who will pay vast sums for the mere privilege of hearing Hillary and Bill talk.

            Reply
            1. Claus

              I hear you can also dine with them for $100,000. I wonder if you get chicken or ham with that meal? If you want seconds, do you have to pay another $100,000?

              Reply
            2. Bart

              P.T. Barnum would be proud of the Clinton’s and anyone else who receives six figure fees to talk for 30 minutes. The quote, “a sucker is born every minute” is attributed to him but like others who capitalize on the fortunes of fate, he didn’t coin the quote. However, IMHO, it is the epitome of anyone paying hundreds of thousands to simply hear Hillary or Bill give a canned speech for half an hour or pay tens of thousands to eat tough chicken and bad vegetables to have dinner with either one. This goes for the other side as well but so far, I haven’t heard about anyone on the other side being paid huge fees to talk for half an hour.

              As for the question about where their income was derived, as far as the news reports go, most if not all of it was “earned” from speaking engagements. Some did come from Bill’s consulting fees in the ME, namely Dubai. Odd that universities have financial problems but they or organizations at the universities can come up with $250,000 plus for Hillary’s speaking fees. Same for Wall Street and their $650,000 fee paid to hear her speak – in private without reporters attending.

              Reply
        2. Mark Stewart

          As with everything, it’s the cover-up that gets at people – whether a “crime” was committed or not.

          I think Trump doesn’t want people to see how much of his money is made from licensing his name in random corners of the globe (often in connection with the kinds of unsavory characters who need a sheen to cloak their financial activities). In the US, it may mostly be a story of a few money-making assets and a lot of failed ideas and investments. And that’s also something that cuts against his self-proclaimed king of the deal hype.

          Reply
          1. Claus

            I find it interesting that licensing his name has your disapproval, but someone charging $10,000/minute to ramble on about nothing is perfectly fine. Does anything Hillary or Bill have to say worth that much money? Her coughing fits alone could bring in $50-$60,000.

            Reply
        3. Lynn Teague

          The primary importance of tax returns is for understanding current and potentially future conflicts of interest. At the national level, this means being able to see if the candidate has financial interests that would compromise his or her objectivity in dealing with decisions that would significantly affect specific corporations, interest groups or even nations. Blind trusts are used by many elected officials to guard against some of these concerns, but they are not always sufficient to protect the public interest. That is an evaluation best made with the level of insight into someone’s financial interests that comes with disclosure of full tax returns. So yes, the “Russian question” is just the kind of conflict of interest issue that makes tax return disclosure important.

          Reply
  6. bud

    Trump is a member of the 47%. If you make 20k and live in a tiny apartment and pay no taxes you’re a moocher. If you live in a huge Manhattan apartment and pay no taxes you’re a brilliant businessman.

    Reply
    1. Doug Ross

      The person who makes 20K is likely getting food stamps, Medicaid, Section 8 housing support, and an “earned” income tax credit. If that ain’t mooching, I don’t know what is.

      Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        Let me amend that – if someone receives those benefits for several years, that is the definition of mooching. Temporary safety net programs are fine, internalizing government dependency is not.

        Reply
        1. Claus

          When I first got out of College I went to work for a lending company. We’d see generations of family members who hadn’t held a job in decades if ever. Daughter would get declined, grandma would come in, grandma would get declined, granddaughter would come in, granddaughter had no earned income so she’d get declined. By the end of the day we’d have three mad women, but not mad enough to go out and find a job.

          Reply
    2. Claus

      bud, according to current tax laws you are correct. Anyone who pays more taxes than they are obligated to using those tax laws is a bad businessman. As Doug stated though, I don’t think Trump would be eligible for the free entitlements as the person who earned $20,000. He’d have to pay for his housing, his food, his medical insurance, his kids schooling, etc… Whereas the $20,000 earner would get all of those things handed to him, as in handouts.

      Reply
      1. Harry Harris

        You might be surprised how much of Trump’s food (expense account), housing (corporate perk), medical insurance (company paid), kids’ schooling, auto expense. travel, vacation, and even clothing came out of pre-tax earnings instead of his own pocket. In a sense, taxpayers are subsidizing every “business expense” he deducts or gets as a perk from his business. Maybe you wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve been a LLC incorporated business yourself.

        Reply
  7. Harry Harris

    Last night, I heard Mark Halperin admit that the media and press has done a lousy job covering this election, spending a paltry amount of time on real issues and candidates’ positions on them. He lamented that the candidates made so much other news that the news outlets took the bait. Even a heady forum such as this one argues over and over personal minutia that matters little in terms of public policy. What a waste of brain power and potential.

    Reply

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