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Posts published in August 2016

Chinese money?


Today The Intercept posted a story about how with the help of the top GOP lawyer on campaign finance, a Chinese Millionaire and his wife used a company called American Pacific International Capital (APIC) to funnel $1.3 million to Jeb Bushes Super PAC. Buried deep in the story however is an Oregon connection.

APIC, which was initially incorporated in Oregon, made contributions between 2010 and 2014 to state and local Oregon politicians, mostly Democrats, totaling about $25,000. The earlier donations include $9,500 given to John Kitzhaber, a Democrat who was elected governor of Oregon in 2010 and 2014 and resigned last year in an unrelated ethics scandal.

The Intercept included a copy of the memo from the GOP Lawyer, Charlie Spies laying out how to launder the foreign money in a way that arguably complies with US law. It appears from the article, that APIC was set up specifically to allow foreigner nationals and their corporations to make unlimited contributions to US politicians using The Citizens United ruling, as well as Mr. Spies legal artifice.

And why did APIC first set up as an Oregon Corporation? Possibly because Oregon has no limits on campaign contributions.

In 2010 through 2012, APIC gave $22,500 to Oregon politicians and causes, including contributions in 2010 of $1,000 to Ted Wheeler and $1,000 to Washington County State Representative Tobias Read. Mr Read is now running as the Democratic nominee for Oregon State Treasurer.

Rankings – who needs ’em


We Nor’westerners like to think we live in a very special place and that all of America wants to move in next door. We bask in our oceanfront properties, covet our mountains and the water streaming down to our gorgeous valleys. We love the nearly always blue skies overhead. Trees. Deserts. Wildlife. We’re full of self-love for our multi-state neighborhood and we think of it all as pretty special.

So, how would you react if someone told you Oregon (specifically) is one of the worst states in which to make a living? I mean, what if the sources of that terrible news were reliable? Sure got my attention.

Some background. A respected outfit called recently statistically examined all states to figure out where average workers could make a good living. And where they couldn’t. Five criteria were used and sources were multiple: (1) average wages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; (2) cost of living from the Council for Community and Economic Research; (3) state tax rates from the research group Tax Foundation; (4) unemployment rate from U.S. Bureau of Labor; (5) incidents of workplace illness, injuries and fatalities compiled by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration folks. Pretty authoritative sources.

When computers regurgitated the results, Hawaii ranked as the worst state for workers based on all those parameters. Given the cost of living alone, finding Hawaii as the worst place for workers to get a break was not terribly surprising.

But what WAS a shock - at least to this former member of the everyday workforce - was that Oregon was #2. Or rather, 49th. Oregon! Right here in the middle of our Nor’western paradise! Oregon! And, even worse, that was down 11 slots from a year ago!

Again, using those same five criteria, cost of living here was determined to be almost 30% above national average. Average income was $46,850 - lower than 48 other states. Hawaii at #50 posted a $46,230 average.

Oregon has had recent high unemployment, though figures swing wildly depending on which county or which trade you’re talking about. And we’ve got a workplace safety incidence of 4.2 per 100 workers. We also had a numerical rise in workplace fatalities from 2014. I suspect timber and commercial fishing contribute heavily to those categories.

And in the fifth ranking - state taxes on average income - workers would pay about $3,982.50 on that annual income of $46,230. Plus federal. Only slightly more than Hawaii. But more.

Now, here’s shock #2. At least for me. The state rated second best for workers of all stripes to make a living was - was - Washington! Yep, our northern neighbor skunked us. But - ah ha - Washington slipped to #2 from the top spot a year earlier. So there! Wyoming was #3. But, consider this: neither state has a state income tax though they offer attractive employment opportunities and favorable cost-of-living environments.

So, who came out on top as the best state with the most favorable employment and living conditions for the American worker? Which state was considered nirvana for the 8-to-5 crowd? Where can you find the best of the best in all 50 states for working stiffs?

Texas. TEXAS! Now, as Deano famously said “Ain’t that a kick in the head?” The state’s gross domestic product expanded 3.7 percent last year compared with 1.8 percent for the rest of the country. Cost-of-living is below average and there’s no state income tax. Only Louisiana had a lower record of on-the-job injuries or fatalities.

But, back to Oregon and the very low ranking as a good place for the average worker to live and ply a trade. While the state may not offer a welcoming statistical climate for workers, I’d like to see a similar ranking system for which states lure the most retirees. People with spendable incomes not looking for employment. People who contribute big bucks to a solid, active economic growth.

Retirees aren’t terribly worried about a state income tax or injuries on the job or average wage scales or even unemployment. If they’ve done their homework prior to retiring, and if the cost-of-living is deemed to be suitable, given Oregon’s spectacular spread of natural and scenic wonders, moderate climate and comfortable small communities, retirees can boost a state’s economy in many ways while not demanding a lot of special services aside from satisfactory health care.

Still, none of us likes to see our home state ranked at the bottom of most surveys. But this one especially galls. Texas? TEXAS?

Trump 92: Endless lawsuits


Our legal system is supposed to be put to use, but this is ridiculous:

Donald Trump has been a plaintiff in at least 1,900 lawsuits and a defendant in 1,450 more, according to an analysis by USA Today.

That's 3,350 legal cases, assuming some aren't duplicative: Which would mean he is both plaintiff and dfendant in a single case, which somehow doesn't seem out of the question when it comes to these kind of number.

The paper had a lot of work to do in tracking it all down; the lawsuits were all over the country and over quite a few years. But think about it: Over the course of a third of a century or so, that's about 100 lawsuits filed either by or against him every year, on average.

Who gets into that many fights? Only someone whose standard for getting into legal battles is almost unbelievably low. Most of us would have no interested in this kind of thing - certainly not if we have any interest in accomplishing anything else in our lives.

This is the kind of thing that apparently preoccupies Donald Trump. The productive work of a presidency would presumably be of distinctly lesser interest. - rs

An answer to prayers?


Donald Trump picked fights with and hurled irretrievable insults at all of womankind, the Hispanic culture, the black voter, the American immigrant, Muslim refugees, a federal judge, the Pope, a handful of right leaning national columnists and commentators, and the entirety of the national media, and nothing happened. He inched up in the polls and knocked off the bottom of the sixteen contenders.

Then he did the same with a good share of the Republican hierarchy, including the RNC, most of the Republican governors, both of the living previous Republican Presidents, everyone at Fox News except O’Reilly and Hannity, all sixteen of his primary opponents, the Speaker of the House, the former Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate, and John McCain. John McCain!

Still nothing happened. He continued to climb in the polls, and drew cheers from the crowds gathering for his stump speeches. In any other election year, with any other candidate, any one of these uninvited, unnecessary and self-induced popovers, especially the racist potshots and the slams against women, the Pope, the judge, and John McCain, would have resulted in the heavens opening for St. Thomas More to reach down, grab the candidate by his you-know-what, and unceremoniously dump him out of the boat.

This is exactly what every one of the cognoscenti predicted was going to happen at one time or another as these gaffs spilled out of the campaign winding through the early days, through the fall, through the heavy primary season, and finally towards the National Convention. Every one of the heavy hitting pundits, who had never been wrong in the history of media-centric electioneering before, came up with egg on their face. Nobody got it right. Nobody.

To the aghast astonishment of every single one of the hangers-on, Trump gathered steam and systematically mowed down all sixteen of the contenders, without a taking a mark from any of the outrageous antics he had been pulling since the outset. He now stood alone as the standard bearer of his party. As the convention neared, Trump unceremoniously abandoned his amateur campaign boss, and brought a pro aboard.

At last, came the cry from the bleachers, we shall see some normalcy injected into the campaign. The predictions flew that following the national convention, Trump would be brought to heel by his family, his new manager, and the professional campaigners that had been recruited. Different tactics would be seen for the general election.

Recent events indicate there is not a chance of any change. In fact, Trump has stepped up the unnecessary, outrageous and boorish outbursts aimed at folks other than the political opponents he needs to best in November, just as he had been pulling off before. In recent times, in just the few days since the convention, he has managed to blast away at, in no particular order, a hapless Muslim couple who lost their son in Iraq, a retired and highly respected four star Marine Corps general, the fire marshal and first responders in Columbus, Ohio, Senator Kelly Ayotte, the Speaker of the House, and John McCain. John McCain!

All of these outbursts are miniature tantrums and none would last through a single news cycle in normal times, if Trump would only brush them off and walk away. But it appears clear that Trump is paying no heed to any past remonstrations from his staff, his family, the party stalwarts, congressional leadership, or anyone else, but insists on continuing to throw gasoline all around, ensuring that everything will continue to blaze and clearly indicating that he has no intention of reforming his campaign style in the future.

While all these shenanigans are soaking up the oxygen in the current news cycles, two other of Trumps’ outrageous antics are beginning to fester. Trump has suggested that Putin is a better leader than Obama, and more recently has come out with inconsistent and conflicting comments on Obama’s policies and what Trump would propose towards the Putin’s actions in the Ukraine. Chuck Todd caught Trumps’ campaign pro in a blatant lie over Ukraine issues on Meet the Press last Sunday. Most recently, Trump has suggested that Putin should turn his email hackers loose on Clinton’s personal mails.

This kind of stuff used to be completely off limits under a longstanding and non-political tradition going back to the advent of the Truman administration, at the instigation of Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich) and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He insisted that no matter how divisive the intramural partisan politics can become in an election year, in foreign matters we have one President at a time, and all politics stops at the water’s edge.

Until now, no one in their right mind would think of aggrandizing a foreign leader over the sitting President to the American voter, or challenging the current administration’s actions over any ongoing issue of foreign policy in the middle of a developing crisis. Trumps’ outrageous violation of history’s tradition, and his blatant aggrandizement of a totalitarian foreign leader at the expense of our sitting President is beside the fact that his statements inviting Putin to take action on Clinton’s campaign emails may even be actionable under federal laws against foreign interference with elections, against foreign interference with emails, and perhaps even in conspiracy to treason, now that Trump and Clinton will be receiving National Security Briefings.
The establishment cognoscenti’s hair is on fire throughout the inner beltway over these developments, and their apoplectic commentary is beginning to spew forth. However, having been burned so badly by their predictions earlier, nobody is willing come right out with any predictions as to what will or should happen to Trump on account of any of it.

But things do seem different this time. While the far right continues to confound, the overall public reaction is more predictable, and the polls are beginning to respond. The critics are a lot hotter and more persistent than before. In an interjection of a type that has not been since Truman slammed Eisenhower’s credentials for office in 1953, President Obama declared that Trump was not fit to hold the office of President. At least two major commentators have opined that Trump is mentally unbalanced, with these comments being repeated throughout the media.

Rumors fly that Trumps’ professional manager has gone into hiding leaving the campaign staff in disarray and ready to bolt. A handful of inside staffers have jumped ship already. At least two congressmen and one prominent mover and shaker, Meg Whitman of California, have jumped all the way over to Clinton’s side. Reince Priebus is said to be apoplectic at the recent developments, and particularly at Trumps’ refusal to support Ryan, Ayotte and McCain. The New York Times is leaking that more defections from the masses of Republican Poohbahs may be in the offing.

Underneath it all, there is at least the beginning of a cackle that, at long last, St. Thomas More has awakened and may be paying attention. If so, it may not be long now.

One can only hope.

Trump 93: For it before he was against it


During the Democratic presidential primary, Senator Bernie Sanders fashioned a recurrent criticism - one of the few to last through most of the campaign - of Hillary Clinton, that while he (Sanders) had seen around the bend far enough to determine that invading Iraq in 2003 was a bad idea, and voted against it, Clinton voted in favor. She never developed a strong comeback to that critique.

For anyone seeking to criticize Clinton, who like Sanders (and, as it happens, like this writer) thought in advance that the invasion was a bad idea, the appeal of that line argument as a blast on Clinton's judgement has some appeal.

From that standpoint, you can understand Donald Trump's desire to do what Sanders did. (The fact that Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, also supported the war, is inconvenient but, well, maybe somewhat disposable. On the other hand, the fact that Trump has scaled down his use of the Clinton-Iraq argument since picking Pence as running mate may suggest it's more than just a little problematic. On at least one televised interview, he proceeded to say "I don't care" about Pence's relative foresight on Iraq.)

On repeated occasions, Trump said he was against it from early on; on a 60 Minutes interview, for example, he said he "was against the war in Iraq from the beginning."

But there's a problem: Trump was not opposed to the war before it was undertaken. As the Atlantic reported:

"JF Trump repeats his claim that he was against the Iraq war from the start. This is not true, and every time he says it he needs to be called out on its falsity. To Trump’s credit, he turned against the war faster than some others, once it started going bad. Before it started, he was not among those — those like Barack Obama, like Al Gore, like a handful of Republicans in Congress, like Brent Scowcroft and other conservatives and realists — who warned that it would be a grievous mistake."

The Los Angeles Times cited an audio recording of a Trump interview with radio host Howard Stern on September 11, 2002, half a year before President George W. Bush ordered the invasion, on th question of whether invading was a good idea. Trump: “Yeah, I guess so. I wish the first time it was done correctly.”

Searching for evidence he had opposed the war before it began, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks went to an interview of Trump with Neil Cavuto of Fox News in January 2003 saying perhaps Bush “shouldn't be doing it yet, and perhaps we should be waiting for the United Nations.” according to Politifact. But Politifact also said Trump nowhere said he "was totally against the war in Iraq” and cautioned that the area could be destabilized as a result.

He doesn't get to take the high ground he apparently wants to occupy here. - rs

Trump 94: A serious medical report


In some ways, the president of the United States is one of the most pampered people in the country, to the point of never having to worry or even think about most personal activities. Transportation, meals, basic needs - pocket change is unnecessary. Most things that most people think about as a matter of daily getting-around simply aren't considerations for the president. All taken care of.

The other side of it is that the job of president is unremittingly stressful. The cares of the world are on the shoulders of the president, and they never can be escaped. At 3 a.m or in the middle of a family vacation, the presidency remains an unavoidable part of life for the four or eight years it is undertaken (maybe less in the case of resignation). If a person is making life and death decisions impacting millions of people, you want that person at their best - and in solid health.

Not all of our presidents have been in great health, and some have functioned remarkably well despite serious problems - Franklin Rosevelt's polio, for example. But the Oval occupant's health can also impair a presidency and do damage to the country, as witness an extended stretch in Woodrow Wilson's presidency. Presidential health is a consideration in all cases, but it becomes greater when the person has packed in more years. As in the case of both major party nominees this year.

Some health questions have arisen concerning Hillary Clinton, especially concerning a 2012 concussion and blood clot incident. Her doctor said "Clinton was diagnosed with a “transverse sinus venous thrombosis,” a type of blood clot in the brain, and was given anticoagulants to dissolve the clot. After the concussion, Clinton experienced double-vision and wore glasses with a Fresnel Prism." A year later, the medical condition was gone, as were the glasses. None of this was trivial, but it all apparently has been treated appropriately.

Her doctor's recent conclusion was, "“In summary, Mrs. Clinton is a healthy female with hypothyroidism and seasonal allergies, on longterm anticoagulation,” Bardack concludes. “She participates in a healthy lifestyle and has had a full medical evaluation, which reveals no evidence of additional medical issues or cardiovascular disease. Her cancer screening evaluations are all negative. She is in excellent physical condition and fit to serve as President of the United States.”

Donald Trump, who would be the oldest person ever sworn in as president, is another matter. From outward appearances (as with Mrs. Clinton) he is in good health, and that may be the case. He does not seem to lack for energy.

We haven't heard much by way of a professional report about Trump's health. One report was attributed in a tweet to Dr. Jacob Bornstein of Lenox Hill Hospital; Trump later deleted the tweet, probably because Jacob Bornstein is dead. Harold Bornstein, however, is very much alive and says Donald Trump is the picture of health.

He wrote that “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

A simple statement that Trump is a healthy 70-year-old man physically capable of serving as president (assuming that he is) would do; this presumption of comparing Trump's health to James Madison's, Andrew Jackson's and Theodore Roosevelt's is ridiculous. (One news report said that "Reached for comment regarding this, a spokesperson at the American Medical Association just giggled.")

We don't have a serious medical report on the man. What we have, as several commentators noted, is something that reads like a medical report on the strongman of North Korea.

And that's physical health. We'll return to the subject of Trump's mental health.

Trump 95: Funded by foreign nationals


High up on the lines of Donald Trump appeal for many of his supporters, last year at least, was this: He's rich, he's paying for his campaign himself, so no one else can buy him.

It was never true; Trump accepted campaign money during the primary season as well as during the general. The deception - many Trump backers probably still think he's self-funding - is more significant than the contributions, which all the other candidates for president, of all parties, have been accepting and using this cycle like the many before it. No blame from here on Trump for accepting contributions ...

... except ...

He's seeking a kind of contribution other candidates of all parties, who mostly at least have been trying to conform to federal law on the subject, have not been seeking:

Money from foreign nationals.

On June 29 the watchdog groups Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission said that fundraising emails from Trump this year have been going not just to Americans but to politicians in Britain, Australia, Scotland and Iceland.

FEC guidance sheets say federal campaigns cannot accept donations from foreign nationals, and "It is also unlawful to help foreign nationals violate that ban or to solicit, receive or accept contributions or donations from them."

An email from Trump's son drew this from a British member of Parliament: "Quite why you think it appropriate to write emails to UK parliamentarians with a begging bowl for your father’s repugnant campaign is completely beyond me. ... Given his rhetoric on migrants, refugees and immigration, it seems quite extraordinary that he would be asking for money; especially people who view his dangerous divisiveness with horror."

Others called it "pathetic."

The Associated Press, in a show of wit, said, "Call it ‘Trexit.’ Members of the British Parliament and other foreign politicians want off Donald Trump’s email list, and are seeking to block the presidential candidate from asking them for campaign donations."

There are some gray areas in the law, and Trump's legal counsel may be able to keep him out of the penalty box here. But really: You're running for president of the United States and you want people from foreign countries to underwrite that? What sort of message is this? (Oh wait. We're talking about Donald Trump here.)

Conventions are dinosaurs


Well, boys and girls, we’ve had ourselves a convention season. Two shows of entirely different tone and quality. Very different in messages. Word is the two of ‘em cost about $30 million.

So, let’s have a little display of hands here. You on the starboard side - has all the hoopla changed your mind about anything? Anything at all? Go ahead, raise your hands. We’ll wait.

Now you on the port side - same question. Did you watch ‘em and did it make a difference in your vote? Hands up, please. O.K. Are you sure?

Hmm. That’s how you feel? Really? After the $30 million and all. One hand in the air? My, my.

That’s about the sum of a recent little informal poll I’ve done with friends and correspondents in the wake of this overly expensive political carnage. People seem to have come away with little or no change in their views of the two presidential candidates. Or, of the two sponsoring parties. Or, much else.

In a way, it’s not surprising. National political conventions have just about outlived their usefulness. Going in, everyone pretty much knows what will happen, how their state will vote and who the nominee(s) will be. There’s no guesswork. No suspense. Just the show and a lot of words from many unknown people that even the networks have found so uninteresting they don’t broadcast many of ‘em.

With 50 states using 50 sets of rules to select delegates to these political moshpits, it’s hard to see any direct connection to the folks at home and how they look at things. This is especially true with the use of state caucuses that are about as representative of home voters as a hermit using a Ouija board.

Primary elections aren’t much better since some are “closed” to voters outside a particular party while others are “open” to any and everybody. Results so truly unrepresentative they reflect little value when used to measure a state’s political proclivities.

Since the voting rights act was wrongfully gutted by SCOTUS last year, many states have enacted new laws barring some residents from registering or, if already registered, from voting. Just last week, a federal appeals court ripped up new laws in North Carolina and labeled them for what they actually were: attempts to keep minorities from voting. I’d guess some other states - Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Georgia et al - are going to be affected, too. Good!

I know there are some cretins who scream and howl about all things federal, even when some federal actions benefit them. But, seems to me, the only way to clean up our befouled elections and their mystifying and questionable implementation, is to throw ‘em all out and start over.

I’d like to see a single federal statute for conduct of all races for national office. States would be given total power to conduct their races anyway they deemed fit. But, nationally, if we’d select delegates in the 50 states the same uniform way, there would be some consistency and consistency and more accuracy in results. Not the hodgepodge and grossly inaccurate mess we have now.

Then, we should take apart the antiquity called the Electoral College which has outlived its usefulness. At least in its present form. It’s become a bottleneck and results issued by the body can be - and often are - not truly representative of the popular vote. As it is now, if a candidate carries half a dozen states, he/she is a winner regardless of the other 44. That’s not right. But that’s what it’s become.

Some sort of electoral body is probably necessary to support a more truly voter representative and level playing field. Of course, what shape and how it would be structured are controversial. But, it could be done. And it should be done. Soon.

Which brings us back to conventions. And that $30 million. It’s hard to see what the two parties got for that lavish and disgusting expenditure. The GOP was actually out begging for $6 million from former benefactors just to pay the tab in Cleveland. Which gives you some indication of the resources the national GOP has on hand to help candidates in the November elections. Not much.

Besides, Republicans may have crowned a presidential candidate who won’t be in the field come November. You can get pretty good odds on that in Vegas these days. I may take a couple of retirement dollars that didn’t go to help pay for someone else’s meaningless convention and make a small Nevada investment. Could be.

Trump 96: No sense of the politics


The incident centering disqualifer 96 is admittedly small and harmless - a small embarrassment for Donald Trump and a chuckle at his expense for the opposition. But for people who understand how government works, as a practical matter, the point is not small at all.

On July 27, Trump held a press conference at which he had in mind hashing on Democrat Hillary Clinton's running mate (for vice president, Tim Kaine. Like most politicians, Kaine left behind over the years some grist for the opposition, but Trump didn't use it.

"Her running mate Tim Kaine, who by the way did a terrible job in New Jersey - first act he did in New Jersey was ask for a $4 billion tax increase and he was not very popular in New Jersey and he still isn't."

Kane is a senator from Virginia; he is a former governor there, but never proposed legislation like that attributed to him by Trump. (Kane had fun with the mistake, admitting that he'd been a poor governor of New Jersey.) Reporters quickly figured that Trump had meant to refer to former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean (1982-90), who was a Republican. The $4 billion tax increase was proposed by a Democratic governor of New Jersey, Jim Florio; Trump was correct that it was unpopular, though Kean remains a popular figure in New Jersey. Kaine did propose a number of tax increases in Virginia, but no single piece that amounted to $4 billion.

Called on this at the event, Trump said, "What? I mean Virginia."

People make mistakes, and if you're talking about details and personnel outside your area of specialty, it'll happen. But just as Trump probably could without error run through a list of, say, the major developers in New York, so could nearly any of his opponents for president this year - in either party - run through a list of who served where and when, with special attention to which party was involved. Hillary Clinton obviously would not have mistaken Kean for Kaine, but neither would Bernie Sanders or - to put a finer point on it - would Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Jeb Bush. Those people are all immersed enough in the finer points of what they're doing to not make that kind of mistake. They have learned about American politics the way a person might learn a foreign language.

Donald Trump never has bothered to learn. He doesn't know this stuff. And in politics, what you don't know most certainly will come back to bite you. - rs