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Posts published in August 2016

Trump 75: Please cyber-attack us

trump

Donald Trump must be the only candidate for president ever to have spoken favorably of the prospect that another nation would attack us. If that's not a qualitative disqualifier for the presidency, what is?

Last month, the FBI completed its inquiry into Hillary Clinton's use of a private server for her e-mail, and concluded that some mails, possibly including some confidential documents, could have been vulnerable to foreign hackers. (There's been no clear evidence that any of it actually was hacked.) Separately, servers at the Democratic National Committee were hacked and a number of messages were pulled, and wound up at Wikileaks, which in turn released many of them. A swarm of investigators, both public and private, researched the hack and arrived at a strong probability that a pair of Russian intelligence organizations had broken in.

Trump, while saying he didn't know whether Russians were behind the hack, added, “If they hacked, they probably have her 33,000 emails. I hope they do.”

And then: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

This deserves making the point finely. Here we have a candidate for president who specifically said he "hopes" an adversarial government has obtained through theft sensitive documents from the government of the United States.

This stunned, and rightly, officials from both political parties. House Speaker Paul Ryan probably more closely expressed what most Americans were thinking: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election.”

Others went further. William Inboden, a National Security Council member in the George W. Bush administration, described Trump's remarks as “tantamount to treason," and “Trump’s appeal for a foreign government hostile to the United States to manipulate our electoral process is not an assault on Hillary Clinton, it is an assault on the Constitution.”

Or, as veteran reporter Carl Bernstein said on CNN, “Today we have reached a tipping point in this election. This is a disqualifying event for a president of the United States. ... It ought to be apparent to all, and the Democrats should be able to make the case, that he is manifestly unsuited to be the president of the United States because of his recklessness with the national security.”

ISU’s red sky (part 1)

carlson

The following story came close to happening. The reader can decide whether it should have.

It was mid-November of 1994, a few days before Thanksgiving. Early in the morning a black cadillac with plate #1 briefly stopped in front of an apartment in downtown Boise. Walking briskly through the door was governor-elect Phil Batt, who jumped in the passenger seat. At the wheel was four-term Governor Cecil D. Andrus.

The two old friends, though of different political persuasions, respected each other and had worked well together over the years. They chatted about Batt’s narrow election win over Attorney General Larry Echohawk as they drove to the private aviation side of Gowen Field. There they were met by Echohawk, Lt. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and Senate Pro Tempore Jerry Twiggs.

They quickly boarded a jet provided by Hewlett-Packard and headed for Idaho Falls where they touched down briefly to pick up House Speaker Mike Simpson. Then took to the air again heading south. Their destination? Salt Lake City. Their purpose? To explore with the leadership of the LDS Church the sale of Idaho State University to the Church in lieu of the Church turning Ricks College into a four year college and renaming it Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Earlier that fall Andrus had received a memo from a former top aide urging him to consider the idea. The memo argued compellingly that if the LDS Church turned Ricks into a four-year college it could lead to significantly less enrollment at ISU and ultimately a regression to a junior college status akin to the College of Southern Idaho or North Idaho College.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to secretly negotiate the sale of ISU to the Church, which would then avoid the expense of building additional capacity in Rexburg? The State might gain $150 million from the sale; there would be more general funds available to Boise State and the University of Idaho if ISU were out of the mix; and, tying its future to the Church might be a better guarantee to the people of Bannock county for campus longevity than its continuing role as the poor third sister in Idaho’s university mix, living most often off of the crumbs.

So the memo argued and so Andrus persuaded the Republican legislative leadership and the governor-elect to at least explore the idea.

The delegation was met by Apostle Dallin Oak at the Salt Lake airport. A former president of BYU and a former Utah Supreme Court justice, he was the acknowledged expert on higher education among the 12 apostles and he was interested in talking. Soon, the delegation was sitting in President Howard Hunter’s office in the LDS office building next to the Temple. The rest is history.

The above scenario is imaginary. The memo and the recommendation to Andrus, however, was a fact. Andrus flat rejected the idea saying there were too many obstacles to overcome in taking a public entity private, and such a drastic move would have to be approved by patrons and the public by some kind of plebesite before he would even think about it. He never raised the issue with Batt.

Perhaps he should have for the memo was prescient. BYU-Idaho is now bursting at the seams and has the second highest enrollment among the state’s seven public colleges and universities and its three private colleges. It has a total enrollment (both full-time and part-time)in excess of 15,000 students whereas the University of Idaho and ISU are both experiencing declining enrollment with Idaho having approximately 11,534 and ISU having 12,543. Boise State tops the list with 20,000 students.

A case can be plausibly made that much of BYU-Idaho’s growth has come at the expense of ISU. Folks at ISU point out, however, that they are the beneficiaries of more LDS graduate students pursing their advance degrees at ISU. They also point out that BYU-Idaho has announced there will be no new buildings at the Rexburg campus which could portend a resumption of more LDS student attending ISU.

Trump 76: The profiteer

trump

Habits can be hard to break, and for Donald Trump the habit of wringing personal profit wherever he can seems to be just too irresistible.

The most recent case, involving relatively few dollars but a clear problem of profiteering, had to do with his latest book, Crippled America (or Great Again, in the paperback). On May 10, a Trump campaign that by them was floated in large part by external donations, made an unusual purchase at Barnes & Noble books: For more than 3,500 copies of Crippled, at full price.

In a stateent, "A spokesperson for the Republican nominee told The Daily Beast the books were purchased “as part of gifting at the convention, which we have to do.” Sure enough, delegates in attendance at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July were given canvas tote bags, stamped with the Trump slogan, and filled with copies of Crippled America, as well as Kleenex and Make America Great Again! cups, hats, and T-shirts. Delegates were also given plastic fetus figurines."

That full-price purchase is highly unusual. At that kind of volume, Trump surely could have gotten a deep discount from B&N, or if not from it then from his publisher. But if the campaign bought the books at such a discount, Trump personally wouldn't profit from the sale. That presumably means money going from campaign donors into Trump's personal pocket.

Presumably. There's a catch here: This kind of personal profiting from a campaign, by a candidate, is forbidden under federal election law. So we'll have to wait and see how the money ultimately is accounted for. But a profit scheme by Trump seems to have been the original idea.

That case at least went through an outside publisher. A great deal of Trump spending since the start of his campaign has gone directly to Trump companies.

The Daily Beast reported on February 29 that "Between June 16, when he announced his candidacy from the lobby of Trump Tower, through the end of 2015, the Trump campaign spent $2.2 million patronizing Trump businesses. The majority—$2 million—was spent on Tag Air Inc., where Trump is CEO."

There is, of course, much more: "The Trump campaign also made 34 visits to Trump Cafe and Trump Grill, restaurants in Trump Tower where you can eat Ivanka’s Salad (diced tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, mediterranean cured olives, feta cheese and romaine lettuce with greek dressing…$18) the Gold Label Burger (our premium blend of Angus short rib, sirloin and Kobe brisket…$19) and Mr Trump’s Mother’s Meatloaf (a family recipe, served with mushroom gravy…$13.50).
And paid $90,000 in in-kind rent to Donald J. Trump, Trump CPS LLC, and Trump Plaza LLC. Rent and utilities were also doled out—to the tune of nearly $74,000—to Trump Restaurants LLC and Trump Tower Commercial LLC."

A case could be made that if Trump wants to spend his campaign's money on his own businesses (which he does not exclusively but heavily), in effect wasting a good deal of it, that it's between Trump and his backers.

But it raises some real questions about what might happen if Trump were elected. What sort of spending patterns might we see at the White House, and around the federal government?

We might have gotten one clue back in 2011, when Trump was also mulling a possible White House bid. In a conversation in that period with the chief executive of NBCUniversal, the two discussed what would become of Trump's show The Apprentice if he ran and won. One of the ideas: Host the show from the White House.

The reportage about that conversation is a little thin, so I'll not try and hang it on Trump too tightly. But it has a place here, because after all the other self-interested things Trump has done in the last year, the account at least sounds perfectly credible. - rs

Trump 77: Mentality

stapiluslogo1

The question had arisen before, but it blew up at the Democratic National Convention after former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had this to say in urging a presidential vote against Donald Trump: "Let’s elect a sane, competent person.”

With that implicit assertion that Trump is neither sane nor competent, the question of Trump's mental condition semi-officially became a public topic of discussion.

The American Psychiatric Association forbids its members, the nation's psychiatrists, from offering diagnoses of public figures who they personally have not even met. It's an understandable rule; few of us would like to be so analyzed from a distance, and long-distance analysis inevitably is going to be far from perfect. The origins of the rule, which lie partly in the 1964 presidential election, help prove the point. That year a magazine polled psychiatrists on whether Barry Goldwater, who was being being caricatured as loony, was mentally fit for the presidency; 1,189, who had never met the man, wrote back to say they thought not. Goldwater's long and quite respectable service in Congress in the years after made for a strong counter to their estimate.

Okay. Fine. Still, and all that said.

“Donald Trump is not of sound mind,” conservative pundit (not psychiatrist) Stephen Hayes opined in the Weekly Standard."The most common amateur diagnosis of Trump is narcissistic personality disorder, a condition characterized by an 'inflated sense of their own importance,' 'a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others,' and 'a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism,' the Mayo Clinic said [in describing the condition]. ... He boasts of his own unparalleled magnificence. He creates and promotes wild conspiracy theories. He tells easily disprovable lies. He fails to finish sentences before he gets distracted by unrelated thoughts. He appears to fly into a wounded rage at mild criticism."

Hayes has lots of company. In the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday psychiatrist Matthew Goldenberg recited: "A former dean of Harvard Medical School tweeted that Trump “defines” narcissistic personality disorder. New York Times columnist David Brooks has said the GOP nominee “appears haunted by multiple personality disorders.” Entrepreneur Mark Cuban was cruder, calling Trump “batshit crazy.” Trump’s coauthor for “The Art of the Deal,” Tony Schwartz, labeled him a “sociopath.” Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker found Trump’s behavior reminiscent of a brain injury."

Goldenberg declined to offer his own analysis. He points out, for example, that most diagnoses of mental illness start with how a person is functionally impaired - and Trump seems to be able to function just fine, to the point of being nominated for president.

But he also said this: "Perhaps the most important reason to skip a psychiatric assessment of Trump is that it just isn't necessary. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to know that there’s something seriously wrong with the candidate. The lessons I learned in preschool, kindergarten and elementary school — not in medical school, residency and years of psychiatric practice — are what tell me that Trump is unfit for the job. My core values as an American — not my professional training — are what make me concerned about a Trump presidency."

You don't need to put a clinical name on it, in other words. You just need to describe it for what it is. - rs

Charter cronyism?

A guest opinion from Levi B. Cavener, a teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He also manages the education blog IdahosPromise.Org where an expanded version of this essay with primary sources is available.

In the wake of financial scandals in the Gem State's education world including the multimillion broadband fiasco, citizens have a right to be leery about cozy relationships between government entities and their business partners.

Take, for example, the recent charter school petition Caldwell School District received from Pathways in Education (PIE). From a public records request, that petition stated that PIE would pay California based Pathways Management Group (PMG), operated by charter entrepreneur Mr. John Hall, to the tune of $127 per student per month for “charter management.”

With a desired enrollment of 300 students and a flexible year-round schedule, that creates a significant contract of $450k for PMG per year. It is unclear what services would be provided for this fee as many of the services listed such as paying utility bills and purchasing electronics appear to be redundant activities the Caldwell district office already performs.

The PIE charter petition also states that the California nonprofit Education In Motion (EIM) will have exclusive ability to appoint PIE's board of trustees. Pay no attention to the fact that the California Secretary of State also lists Mr. Hall as agent of that nonprofit at precisely the same California address shared with PMG, which he presides over.

In other words: an out-of-state group (with Mr. Hall listed as agent) has the exclusive ability to appoint trustees to the charter -- not the local community. Hand-picked trustees then contract with Mr. Hall's vendor to manage the charter, in perpetuity. Now, that's a good business model!

Idaho's laws regarding charters was written to prevent this apparent type of conflict of interest. It states that “No more than one-third (1/3) of the public charter school's board membership may be comprised of nonprofit educational services provider representatives.”

In this case, an entity under agency of Mr. Hall has the exclusive ability to appoint trustees which subsequently contract his management services. Some would say that means Mr. Hall controls more than the ⅓ share allowed, and in fact, has de facto control of the entire board.

All of which leads full circle back to the loss of local control because an out-of-state entity is not only in charge of an Idaho school, but is also the recipient of a lucrative business relationship with the school. Isn’t that cronyism? You know, favoring close friends, or, yourself?

But wait, it gets better: PIE withdrew its application from Caldwell School District before trustees voted on the charter proposal, and then resubmitted it to the Idaho Public Charter School Commission (IPCSC). That end-around step means that no elected officials will have an opportunity now to vote on opening PIE in Caldwell going forward.

That result is because the IPCSC members who will vote on granting PIE’s charter are appointed by a governor whose tenure has been littered with these types of conflict-of-interest episodes.

And the appointed commission may very well vote to grant a California nonprofit, with Mr. Hall listed as agent, the ability to appoint trustees in Caldwell, Idaho. Which will then engage in a substantial financial contract with an entity also helmed by Mr. Hall. Because that makes sense.

But these are the sorts of things that occur when the public loses control of making fundamental decisions about its local schools when that control is exported to charter schools along with their out-of-state management groups.

And for all the rhetoric about the “freedom” to have “choice” in our public schools, PIE suggests that we have given away every modicum of the freedom to run the schools in our community to a California nonprofit and business partners. Only in Idaho …

Trump 78: Losing their religion

trump

Over the course of the campaign, Donald Trump has questioned the religion of a lot of people.

Some of them are his opponents.

“We don't know anything about Hillary [Clinton] in terms of religion,” he said at one gathering of evangelical leaders in New York on June 21. “Now, she's been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there's no — there's nothing out there. There's like nothing out there. It's going to be an extension of Obama but it's going to be worse, because with Obama you had your guard up. With Hillary you don't, and it's going to be worse.”

Actually, quite a bit is on the record about Hillary Clinton' religious background. As NBC summarized, "Clinton is, in fact, a practicing Methodist who knows her Bible well and speaks often about the important role faith plays in her life. In her books, and occasionally on the campaign trail, Clinton has talked openly of how she turned to faith in times of hardship, including during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the death of her best friend, Diane Blair, in 2000."

Senator Ted Cruz, who is extremely open about his religious beliefs and is the son of a minister, came under similar attack. In January, NBC reported, Trump told a group of Baptists, "Just remember this, in all fairness, to the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba, okay?"

Speaking of the similarly openly devout Ben Carson, he remarked, "I'm Presbyterian. Boy, that's down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don't know about. I just don't know about."

He may not know a lot about Presbyterians either, since the Presbyterian church described as his says he is not an "active member."

Then there are other people he has gotten crosswise with. President Obama he has famously tried to have tagged as a Muslim. (Obama was a church-going Christian in Chicago for many years.) And of 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney he asked - in Salt Lake City, of all places - "Are you sure he's a Mormon? Are we sure?"

The point of this recitation is not simply to recount yet another collection of outrages. It is that Trump, in trying to poke at people where they're sensitive, is taking flippantly at best the seriousness with which many people take their religious beliefs - including, from widespread available evidence, all of those evidently devout people he has attacked in the course of his campaign. I personally have no problem with irreligion; we have the right in this country to believe in no religion at all, as well as any one in particular, and if Trump chooses to be an unaffiliated (for meaningful purposes), he's at liberty to do that.

But a person running for public office making a practice of attacking other people over their religion is another matter. A small-town mayor or county commissioner should never be allowed to get away with it, and few local communities probably would put up with it. A president most certainly should not do such a thing.

A president mindlessly attacking people over matters of religion would open a can of explosives that might not ever be resealed - at least until after the damage is done. - rs

One big legal ripoff

rainey

I hate writing about statistics. But, this is a column in which you’re going to have to wade through some, at times, confusing numbers to get the point. So, stick with me here. ‘Cause when that point comes, you’ll probably be as mad as I am.

The basis for my anger is found in an interesting report from the Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), a coalition of 400 national and state-level progressive groups. While most members tilt slightly left politically, the numbers are real and the methodology pure statistical mechanics.

We, common variety taxpayers, have known since diaper-hood that corporations - large, faceless, and uncaring - have ripped off the tax system with loopholes, shifts, tricks, offshore stashes and bookkeeping slight-of-hand. All legal but foul smelling. But, maybe - just maybe - it’s worse than we thought.

The comprehensive numbers crunching by ATF this year dealt almost exclusively with Walmart. Previous deep dives into the books included the entire American fast food industry, auto companies and other large employers. In all cases, the bottom line was this: American taxpayers are heavily subsidizing all of them on the one hand - while being ripped off with tax breaks on the other.

Here are the Walmart numbers. And, this, my friends, is where you’ll find that elusive anger point I mentioned.

For the year 2013, “Walmart workers cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing. $6.2 billion right out of the ol’ taxpayer pockets.

Statisticians arbitrarily picked one Walmart superstore in Wisconsin. That store - that one store - cost taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year! Every year! That worked out to between $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 employees!

ATF took the mid-point of that range ($4,415) and multiplied it by Walmart’s approximately 1.4 million workers. That’s how they got to the $6.2 billion direct cost to we taxpayers.

So, how did the numbers work out in our little Northwest neighborhood for just the Walmart ripoff? Well, Idaho has 7,026 Walmart employees for which the company receives $39.1 million in subsidies and tax breaks. Oregon’s 11,480 employees netted the company just over $70 million in subsidies and breaks. Washington had 19,350 employees and the company netted $120.2 million in government largesse.

Of the $6.2 billion overall cost to citizens, Idaho’s 7,026 employees racked up a $31 million hit to public assistance; Oregon’s 11,482 workers cost us $50.7 million and Washington’s 19,350 employees another $85.4 million drain to welfare programs.

Now, the “frosting on the cake” - how much Walmart’s U.S. stores took in through sales in just the food stamp program (SNAP). Bottom line in 2013 alone: $13.5 billion! Talk about taking it with both hands! That’s over 18% of all dollars paid out through the entire SNAP program coming back to Walmart!

And, if you’re wondering who was number two paying low wages which forced employees to use SNAP, that would be your famous “Golden Arches” folk who cost us all $1.2 billion more. And you can bet they sold millions of Big Mac’s to people who paid with food stamps. Again, gotcha coming and going..

Some of the crazier cretins along the Potomac want to badly curtail - or even eliminate - the SNAP subsidy. I would make a sizeable bet none of them have read the work of the Americans for Tax Fairness research. Or any other of the scholarly reports examining - in great detail - who the uses food stamps and why they have to just to survive.

But for the saner - and infinitely smarter - members of Congress, I’d recommend one of more than four dozen such tomes done by the Department of Defense. If they did, they’d find repeated conclusions showing more than 20% of food stamp users are in military uniform. And many of those are stateside families of one or more servicemen over in the live fire zones.

Come to think of it, that statistic makes me madder than the Walmart ripoff.

Trump 79: In the pocket

trump

Ask a Donald Trump supporter why, and one of the answers almost sure to come out - right up top - relates to the candidate's image and things he has said about himself. It goes something like this: "He's paying for his own campaign, so he's not in anybody's pocket. He's not beholden to anybody. He can say exactly what he thinks, and he does."

And every time he says something that make many people gasp, the point seems driven home all the deeper.

But the premise - that the campaign is completely self-financed - isn't true, and never has been. And as for non-campaign financial obligations, Trump is deep in the hole. The truth is the exact opposite of Trump's carefully-crafted image.

It is true that much of the money for the campaign in the primary season came out of Trump's pocket. What many supporters didn't realize was that he listed it on campaign finance reports as a loan, which means that contributions in the future could be used to pay him back. When headlines about that started to hit, he said he would change that designation from "loan" to "contribution", so that he could not be repaid. Problem is that the paperwork to accomplish that apparently has never been filed with the Federal Elections Commission. That presumably means any contributed money (from other contributors) left unspent could wind up back in Trump's own accounts. We'll eventually see how all that settles out.

On March 7, Trump said, “I’m self-funding my campaign. I’m not taking money. ... I’m not taking. I spent a lot of money. I don’t take.” But according to federal reports, as of January 31, his campaign had in fact pulled in $7.5 million in non-candidate donations, and that was just the beginning.

Moving into the general election season, his campaign finances and those of the national Republican Party have become increasingly intertwined. In itself, that's not unusual in either party, but it means Trump's boasts about self-funding have become meaningless. Tens of millions of dollars have been raised in the last three months - the Trump campaign has become a substantial fundraiser - and it has become an increasingly conventional one. Trump may hate the work of fundraising, but his campaign has been pulling it in much the same way other candidates do. He's not really any different.

Other than that, because of concerns that Trump might drag down other Republicans, the national Republican leadership has been (according to numerous recent reports) redirecting a lot of the pooled money toward congressional and other races, and away from Trump's. The risks are high in either actually doing that or not doing it, and the issue isn't settled. But increasingly, many of the people who thought they were donating to support Trump's presidential campaign may find some of their dollars went to other purposes. Trump's campaign finances have become a more complex problem than for any presidential candidate in decades. So much for the simplicity of self-funding.

And that's just the campaign finance.

Last weekend the New York Times released results of an extensive investigation into Trump's finances, and found he owes the staggering amount of at least $650 million, more than twice the debt listed on his personal disclosure form filed with the Federal Election Commission.

After spending more than a year blasting the economic and lobbying practices of China and the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs, especially in connection with opponents Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton, Trump seems in fact to be referring more to himself than to them. "Notably, one of these [Trump building projects] - a Manhattan office building which Trump partly owns -'“carries a $950 million loan,' according to the Times. Goldman Sachs and the Bank of China are two of the building’s four lenders."

And it goes on from there, at great length. Actually, no one (maybe even Trump) seems to know exactly what he owes in debt, or to who. As the Times concluded, if Trump were elected president, the country could for the first time ever have a president with business ties and debt obligations so extensive the country realistically has no idea what he owes to whom.

Anyone who thinks Trump would arrive at the White House free of obligation to special interests, has the reality twisted 180 degrees. - rs