Saturday, March 03, 2018
Mike Huckabee’s homophobia has struck a sour note with the country music industry.
After outcry against his presence on the board of directors of the CMA Foundation — the charitable arm of the Country Music Association — the former Arkansas governor and failed presidential candidate resigned from the board today, one day after his election, reports Nashville newspaper The Tennessean.
“The announcement follows pointed criticism from members of the country music industry, as well as fans — much of it stemming from Huckabee's stance on LGBT issues,” the paper reports.
Among other anti-LGBT stances, Huckabee is a longtime opponent of marriage equality and has made offensive jokes about transgender people. He has likened marriage equality to U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous 1856 Dred Scott decision upholding slavery, and he once characterized gender-confirmation surgeries as strictly cosmetic, like implants for a woman who wants larger breasts.
He also opposes gun control and abortion rights, and he recently said his daughter, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is a victim of feminists who are seeking to discredit her.
While the country music industry may be one of the more conservative portions of the entertainment world, there are numerous country music executives, artists, and fans who are LGBT or allies, and they were quick to object to Huckabee’s election to the board of the foundation, which is “devoted to growing and supporting music education programs across the country,” according to The Tennessean.
“Huckabee speaks of the sort of things that would suggest my family is morally beneath his and uses language that has a profoundly negative impact upon young people all across this country,” said Jason Owen, a married gay father who is co-president of Monument Records and owner of Sandbox Entertainment, in an email to CMA officials, The Tennessean reports. “Not to mention how harmful and damaging his deep involvement with the [National Rifle Association] is. What a shameful choice.”
Whitney Pastorek, who manages Sugarland singer Kristian Bush, also objected to Huckabee’s presence on the board. “What a terrible disappointment to see [the CMA Foundation’s] mission clouded by the decision to align with someone who so frequently engages in the language of racism, sexism, and bigotry,” she told CMA executives via email.
Huckabee, a former Fox News Channel host, now has a talk show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, an evangelical Christian outlet. . . . He was not immediately available for comment on his resignation, The Tennessean reports.
The majority of the bad decisions and policies of older Americans - especial so-called conservatives and Republicans - will disproportionately harm Millennials and other younger generations. They are being saddled with the now likely $2.5 trillion increase in the national debt flowing from Trump/GOP tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, they see wages remaining stagnating while their counterparts in Europe have better chances of upward social mobility, and they far too many older voters clinging to their guns and bibles as they push an agenda that is the antithesis to the gospel message. Indeed, one-third of those under 30 are now "Nones" who have walked away from organized religion and one truly cannot blame them. Now, in the wake of the Parkland school massacre, just maybe Millenials are on the point of saying "no more!" An op-ed in the New York Times looks at how, if the nation is lucky, the Millenials will rise up and over turn the current corrupt political scene. Here are highlights:
As with all historic tipping points, it seems inevitable in retrospect: Of course it was the young people, the actual victims of the slaughter, who have finally begun to turn the tide against guns in this country. Kids don’t have money and can’t vote, and until now burying a few dozen a year has apparently been a price that lots of Americans were willing to pay to hold onto the props of their pathetic role-playing fantasies. But they forgot what adults always forget: that our children grow up, and remember everything, and forgive nothing.
Those kids have suddenly understood how little their lives were ever worth to the people in power. And they’ll soon begin to realize how efficient and endless are the mechanisms of governance intended to deflect their appeals, exhaust their energy, deplete their passion and defeat them. But anyone who has ever tried to argue with adolescents knows that in the end they will have a thousand times more energy for that fight than you and a bottomless reservoir of moral rage that you burned out long ago.
The young — and the young at mind — tend to be uncompromising absolutists. They haven’t yet faced life’s heartless compromises and forfeitures, its countless trials by boredom and ethical Kobayashi Marus, or glumly watched themselves do everything they ever disapproved of.
Yet this uprising of the young against the ossified, monolithic power of the National Rifle Association has reminded me that the flaws of youth — its ignorance, naïveté and passionate, Manichaean idealism — are also its strengths. Young people have only just learned that the world is an unfair hierarchy of cruelty and greed, and it still shocks and outrages them. They don’t understand how vast and intractable the forces that have shaped this world really are and still think they can change it. Revolutions have always been driven by the young.
To those of us who have lived with certain grim realities our whole adult lives — the widening moat between the rich and the rest of us, the sclerotic influence of money on politics, the N.R.A.’s unassailable coalition of greed and fear — they seem like facts of life as unalterable as death itself. . . . We spend $60 billion a year on pets but won’t go to any inconvenience to keep second graders from getting slaughtered. Despite all our competitive parenting and mommy machismo and trophy kids, we don’t really give a damn about our children — by which I mean, about one another’s. When a race stops caring for its young, its extinction is not only imminent but well deserved. But maybe my bitter complacence about our civilization’s irreversible decline is just a projection of my feelings about my own.
Harvey Weinstein ultimately wasn’t the one enforcing the code of silence around his predations: It was all the agents and managers and friends and colleagues who warned actresses that he was too powerful to accuse. Once people stopped believing in his invulnerability, his destruction was as instantaneous as the middle school queen being made a pariah. Watch: As soon as the first N.R.A. A-rated congressman loses an election, other politicians’ deeply held convictions about Second Amendment rights will start rapidly evolving.
The students of Parkland are like veterans coming home from the bloody front of the N.R.A.’s de facto war on children. They’ve seen their friends, teachers and coaches gunned down in the halls. To them, powerful Washington lobbyists and United States senators suddenly look like what they are: cheesy TV spokesmodels for murder weapons. It has been inspiring and thrilling to watch furious, cleareyed teenagers shame and vilify gutless politicians and soul-dead lobbyists for their complicity in the murders of their friends.
One of my students once asked me, when I was teaching the writing of political op-ed essays, why adults should listen to anything young people had to say about the world. My answer: because they’re afraid of you. They don’t understand you. And they know you’re going to replace them.
My message, as an aging Gen X-er to millennials and those coming after them, is: Go get us. Take us down — all those cringing provincials who still think climate change is a hoax, that being transgender is a fad or that “socialism” means purges and re-education camps. Rid the world of all our outmoded opinions, vestigial prejudices and rotten institutions. . . . — rip it all to the ground.
|Russian troll factory near St. Petersburg, Russia|
Over the past two weeks, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three companies for interfering in the 2016 presidential election. The spotlight fell on one company, the Internet Research Agency and its so-called Russian trolls, who wrote fake news articles, impersonated Americans on social media and worked to manipulated people to promote certain agendas.Now, a band of computational social scientists at the University of Southern California has measured the influence of those faceless trolls and bots in the Twitterverse.
They report in an early-release study that American conservatives shared tweets and content from Russian trolls about 30 times more often than liberals right before the 2016 election.
Badawy’s team looked at 2,752 now-deactivated Twitter accounts owned by Internet Research Agency trolls and found that 221 of these accounts showed up in their dataset.
The team found 40,000 different American users retweeted Russian trolls more than 80,000 times. And though some tweets showed bias toward both liberals and conservatives, pro-Trump and conservative-leaning messages made up a majority of the messages.
Most of the retweets of Russian trolls came from two southern states — Texas and Tennessee. Texans shared more than 26,000 Russian tweets and Tennesseans shared nearly 50,000.
The issue here is how much we believe what we read,” Badawy said. “There is going to be a lot of content that we’re not sure of anymore, and this problem opens up more room for doubt in American politics and politics around the world.”
Sadly, most of the "conservative" news outlets - think Fox News and Breitbart among others - specialize in fake news and/or carefully edited and propaganda that are the antithesis to having a well informed citizenry.“These manipulations and sharing of fake news affects the free and open exchange of information in the market,” Menczer added. “And democracy rests on the assumption of a well-informed citizenry. If others can manipulate how information circulates, then they’re able to manipulate our democracy.”
[T]his last week suggests to me is that there is a quickening in the crisis of the Trump presidency. I’m not sure where it will lead, but something is stirring.Everything we’re seeing from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, suggests the growing possibility, at the very least, that Trump is implicated in a conspiracy with a foreign power to defraud the United States of America (that’s a better way of describing it than “collusion”). We can intuit this because we now know that the Trump campaign official George Papadopoulos knew by April 2016 that Russia had thousands of allegedly incriminating emails from Hillary Clinton, and planned to release them. It’s extremely hard to believe Papadopoulos didn’t share this information with his confreres on the Trump campaign. Why on earth would he not?
Trump then went out of his way repeatedly in the campaign to draw the media’s attention to the hacked emails, kept denying they were definitively the result of Russian interference, then publicly urged Russia, on national television, to release them. That summer, Donald Trump Jr. was thrilled to meet with Kremlin-connected Russians who might provide more information about the hacked emails, hoping that they could be released later in the campaign. He subsequently lied about this in a statement reportedly co-written by the president and Hope Hicks. Then there’s Mueller’s successful bid to get Rick Gates, Paul Manafort’s right-hand man, to cooperate with the ongoing case against Trump’s former campaign manager. Gates knows everything about that sleazeball’s money-raking over the years, and his enmeshment with some of the most repellent tyrants on the planet (not including Trump). His testimony could be devastating. All of this lends considerably more credibility to the notion that Trump may have effectively committed treason during his campaign, and that Mueller may hit pay dirt. I have to say I’ve become much less skeptical of this idea as time has passed and the evidence has accumulated. It reached a tipping point for me last week.
Then there’s the New York Times story this week detailing Jared Kushner’s obvious conflict of interest in meeting with subsequent lenders to his company in his White House capacity. It’s one of the more damning exposés of a White House official that I’ve ever read. It reveals the character of the man (he’s just like his dad), and the removal of this gilded, mute grifter’s top security clearance is a sign that some small constraints on the unprecedented corruption in Trump’s orbit are beginning to emerge.
The swift departure of Hope Hicks after Trump berated her for telling the truth to the House Intelligence Committee — he reportedly asked her how she could “be so stupid” — is another sign of unraveling. (If true, by the way, then Trump’s interference with an individual’s possible future testimony under oath, is also, strictly speaking, a crime.)
At the same time, a remarkable [and totally unlikely] hero is emerging in the fight for the norms of liberal democracy: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. He has steadfastly refused to act as Trump’s personal point man at the Justice Department . . . . Money quote: “As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.” Translation: Fuck off, Mr, President. Having a nice public dinner with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Wednesday night was the cherry on top of this DOJ sundae.
Trump is flailing on policy matters, too. The reckless tax cut, we now know, has benefited shareholders far, far more than the middle or working class, the mounting debt is putting pressure on interest rates, and a sudden spree of tariffs is a further unknowable disruption. On the opioid crisis, Trump’s primary focus, as he revealed in his drop-by meeting at the White House yesterday, appears to be a Duterte-like assassination squad for drug-dealers.
Then there was the staggering open meeting this week with senators on gun-control proposals. Trump revealed that he’s an authoritarian liberal on the issue, rather than a constitutional conservative, which is why Ben Shapiro, among many others on the right, regarded the performance as “a complete and utter disgrace.” (I’ve rarely seen Dianne Feinstein more chipper.) But Trump’s infatuation with gun control makes perfect sense to me, given what we know of him. Have we ever seen him decline “control” of anything? So why not guns? His blithe dismissal of “due process” in backing the government’s right to enter someone’s home and confiscate their weapons is also completely consistent with his contempt for liberal democratic norms in every other area.
He’s violated some core GOP beliefs on guns and immigration. It’s telling, it seems to me, that Drudge buried this news and Sean Hannity managed to cover the session without ever mentioning Trump’s extraordinary gaffe. Drudge and Hannity are, for me, the best indicators of when Trump is in trouble. The more they bury news, the more important and dangerous it is for the Trump agenda. And there’s a lot to bury right now: metastasizing scandal, an administration at war with itself, a chief of staff looking wobbly, egregious corruption, and open rhetorical betrayal of the base. It’s not that we haven’t seen all of this before — but it’s the combination of all these in a sudden and accumulating pile that seems more ominous than usual.
Trump’s best bet is that he can gin up another culture-war distraction and that the cult behind him — and the cult’s fear and loathing of the other tribe — will render him immune to the usual political crosswinds. All the evidence reveals that, so far, he would be right. His 85 percent approval rating from Republicans remains and probably will never decline — regardless of anything he does or might do. I suspect that even if there were a tape of him conspiring with Putin himself to tip the 2016 election, Fox would call it fake news, Trump would say it’s not his voice, and the GOP base would side instinctively with their newly beloved Kremlin over the Democrats. But I’ve begun to wonder if there’s a chance that the cultish following may falter as the reality of Trump’s ideological fickleness, managerial incompetence, and boundless corruption begins to seep through. At some point, surely even his supporters will have to say that this is finally enough.
Friday, March 02, 2018
The ceaseless barrage of news — both real and fake — from the Trump administration can be numbing, so it’s important to step back every once in a while and look at the big picture: Never have we seen such utter chaos and blatant corruption.None of what’s happening is normal, and none of it should be acceptable. Life is imitating art: What we have is less a presidency than a cheesy reality show, set in a great stately house, with made-for-television histrionics, constant backstabbing and major characters periodically getting booted out.
Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, decided Wednesday to self-eject. Was it because she had spent the previous day testifying on Capitol Hill and was forced to admit having told “white lies” for President Trump? Was it because the man she had been dating, Rob Porter, lost his important White House position when the Daily Mail revealed he faced multiple allegations of wife-beating? Or was Hicks simply exhausted?
Among those now with limited [security clearance] access is Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whose heavily indebted real estate empire and grudging disclosure of his many foreign contacts worried FBI investigators. Kushner is a senior adviser to the president whose many assignments include forging peace in the Middle East — but who now is not cleared for documents or meetings that discuss what’s really happening in the Middle East or anywhere else. So why is he still there?Why was he there in the first place? Because of Trump’s appalling nepotism.
Trump also brought his daughter Ivanka into the White House as an adviser. What does she do? What qualifies her to do it? In a real administration, conservative or liberal, Kushner’s office and Ivanka Trump’s office would be occupied by experienced professionals who actually know something about diplomacy or administration or some government function.
Never before have we had a president openly at war with his own attorney general. The Post reported Wednesday that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is investigating whether Trump’s attempts to force Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of his job last summer were part of a pattern of attempted obstruction of justice.Sessions was photographed at a posh Washington restaurant dining with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein — who oversees the Mueller investigation — and Solicitor General Noel Francisco. If it wasn’t a deliberate display of unity at the Justice Department, it sure looked like one.Any other president who displayed such cavalier disregard for previous policy positions and total ignorance of basic facts would have provoked an uproar. Trump barely gets a shrug. Nobody expects him to be consistent. Nobody expects him to know anything about anything. He is defining the presidency down in a way that we must not tolerate.
I spent years as a foreign correspondent in Latin America. To say we are being governed like a banana republic is an insult to banana republics. It’s that bad, and no one should pretend otherwise.
Trump just raised the price of cars, beer, vacations, and apartment rentals.
That’s not what most headlines say. Those headlines say that Trump will raise tariffs on steel and aluminum. Higher tariffs mean higher prices for those inputs—and therefore for the products ultimately made from those outputs. Automotive and construction top the largest users of steel in the United States. Aluminum is heavily used to make airplanes, cars and trucks, and beverage containers, and also in construction.
The last time the U.S. imposed steel tariffs, back in 2002, the project was abandoned after 20 months. A 2003 report commissioned by industries that consumed steel estimated that the Bush steel tariffs cost in excess of 200,000 jobs—or more than the total number of people then employed in the entire steel industry at the time.
Even by Trump standards, the decision-making process was a chaos. As late as 9 p.m. last night, it remained undecided whether there would be an announcement today at all—never mind what that announcement would be. Key congressional committee chairs were unconsulted and uninformed.
The president[Trump] as so often relied on junk information. . . . Industries seeking protection reportedly bought commercials on Fox & Friends. Apparently a decisive event in the debate was the firing of staff secretary Rob Porter, after revelations that he had engaged in spousal abuse. Porter had also chaired the weekly trade debate, forcing the president to confront the costs and harms of protectionism. His removal also empowered Trump’s worst instincts.The Department of Defense intervention in the debate shredded the logic of protectionists like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, himself a former steel man.
U.S. military requirements for steel and aluminum each only represent about 3 percent of U.S. production. Therefore, DoD does not believe that the findings in the reports [of harm to domestic steel and aluminum producers from foreign competition] impact the ability of DoD programs to acquire the steel or aluminum necessary to meet national defense requirements. What did alarm the Department of Defense about proposed steel and aluminum tariffs was potential harm to vital U.S. alliances.
Trump’s unpredictability and threatening language have not only jolted U.S. financial markets, but have done further damage to the U.S.-led alliance system. European Union trade ministers agreed earlier this week to retaliate if the U.S. imposes steel tariffs, further degrading a U.S.-EU relationship already badly damaged by Trump’s hostility to NATO and deference to Russia.
Donald Trump is often compared to Richard Nixon in his disdain for law and ethics. The parallel applies to economics too.
Nixon governed not according to what would work in the long term, but according to “the prevailing mood of the two-thirds of the country he called the ‘constituency of uneducated people.’”
Nixon did indeed win in 1972. He also bequeathed his country not only the worst political scandal in its history to date, but a decade of stagflation that bore most heavily upon the very people Nixon claimed to champion. We’ve been there before; it looks like we’re returning there again.
Trump's rust belt and hill billy supporters will likely cheer their "dear leaders" move without realizing that yet again they are seeing a result directly against their own best economic interest. Feeling good about "punching back" on someone will not make up for the economic pain. Sadly, Trump supporters are too stupid to grasp this reality.
Thursday, March 01, 2018
We were just speculating as to why President Trump seemed particularly agitated over the past 24 hours, reaffirming his reelection plans and then lashing out at his attorney general. Now we learn (coincidence?) from that longtime confidante Hope Hicks is leaving the White House. When one leaves to pursue other opportunities, but doesn’t identify any, chances are there is a backstory to the departure.
The timing is curious, to say the least. She told the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that she’s told “white lies,” but not on anything “substantive” for Trump. Whether that remark or something else she said in the presence of Trump’s favorite errand boy, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), may have triggered her departure is unknown, nor is it clear on what topics she declined to provide answers. Her resignation also comes the day after Jared Kushner’s day from hell,. . . . four foreign government have spoken about using his financial interests (recall, he’s heavily in debt) to gain influence with the administration. (Might this have been an effort to draw attention away from that fiasco?)
It is hard to believe that Trump, who’s depended on her assistance for years — well before the 2016 campaign — wanted her to go. . . . . but chances are it was she who wanted to leave, not anyone in the White House who wanted her to go. Now, the reason for her decision, if it was her choice, may be innocuous. It’s exhausting working in the White House, especially this one.
Will her departure matter? On a political level, likely not. . . . Her departure, however, may be bad news for Trump from a legal standpoint. She is a direct witness to much of the day-to-day goings on in the White House. She was present on Air Force One for a critical episode in the Russia affair. She reportedly was involved in the drafting of a memo that did not accurately recount the reason for the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. Beyond that we do not know what more she has heard or has knowledge of regarding either “collusion” or Trump’s repeated attempts to throw the Russian investigation off track.
[S]he has already spoken to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, . . . She also, and this is key, worked with Trump in his real estate business — in fact she knew very little about politics before the 2016 campaign. As Mueller begins to delve deeper and deeper into Trump’s financial affairs and his connection to Russian money, she may have an unusual inside account as to how he operated and the people with whom he interacted.
Walmart, one of the nation’s leading retailers, announced on Wednesday that it would no longer sell guns and ammunition to those younger than 21.
“In light of recent events, we’ve taken an opportunity to review our policy on firearm sales,” according to a company statement. "Going forward, we are raising the age restriction for purchase of firearms and ammunition to 21 years of age. We will update our processes as quickly as possible to implement this change.”
The announcement came the same day that Dick’s Sporting Goods also announced it would no longer sell guns to anyone under the age of 21.
Unlike Dick’s, however, Walmart has not sold AR-15 or other assault-style rifles since 2015, and it does not sell handguns, except in Alaska. The company also said it does not sell so-called bump stocks, high-capacity magazines or similar accessories.
“We take seriously our obligation to be a responsible seller of firearms and go beyond federal law by requiring customers to pass a background check before purchasing any firearm,” Walmart said in its statement.
The company noted that unlike federal law, which would allow the sale of a firearm if no response to a background check request had been received within three business days, the company prohibited the sale until the request was approved.
I am not typically a fan of Walmart, but kudos to the company for these gun policies. As for the surging polls showing support for gun control reform, here are highlights from a second piece from Politico:
Support for stricter gun laws has spiked in polls conducted after the fatal South Florida school shooting, hitting its highest level in at least a quarter-century.
Roughly 2 in 3 Americans now say gun control laws should be made more strict in the wake of the murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, according to a number of polls, including a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll that shows support for stricter gun laws among registered voters at 68 percent, compared with just 25 percent who oppose stricter gun laws.
[T]here appears to be a clear trend in all the post-Parkland, Florida, polling: This time is different. The percentage of Americans who want more restrictive gun laws is greater now than after any other recent shooting.
Morning Consult polling goes back only two years, but support for stricter gun laws was at 58 percent following the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting that killed 49 people, 64 percent following the 2017 mass shooting that resulted in 58 deaths at a country-music festival in Las Vegas and 60 percent last November, after a shooter killed 26 people inside a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Much of that increased support comes from Republicans, according to Kyle Dropp, Morning Consult’s co-founder and chief research officer.
"Republican support for tougher gun laws is at its highest point since Morning Consult and POLITICO began tracking the issue," said Dropp. "In this week's poll, 53 percent of Republicans indicated they supported stricter gun laws, compared to 37 percent [of Republicans] who said the same following the Pulse nightclub shooting in June 2016.”
A CNN poll released this week recorded support for stricter gun control laws at 69 percent — the highest mark since 1993. It’s up from just 52 percent last October, shortly after the Las Vegas shooting. Nearly half of Republicans, 49 percent, support stricter gun laws, up from 30 percent in October.
Raising the age limit on gun purchasers is also widely popular. Eighty-two percent think the age limit should be 21 to purchase an assault-style weapon, and 81 percent support requiring purchasers of all firearms to be 21.More than 3 in 4 voters, 78 percent, want to create a national database with information about each gun sale. The same percentage support a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases, and 77 percent support a ban on bump stocks, which President Donald Trump has called a priority for his administration.
Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, the current and former officials said.
It is unclear if any of those countries acted on the discussions, but Kushner’s contacts with certain foreign government officials have raised concerns inside the White House and are a reason he has been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance, the officials said.
Early last year, a private equity billionaire started paying regular visits to the White House. Joshua Harris, a founder of Apollo Global Management, was advising Trump administration officials on infrastructure policy. During that period, he met on multiple occasions with Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said three people familiar with the meetings. Among other things, the two men discussed a possible White House job for Mr. Harris.
The job never materialized, but in November, Apollo lent $184 million to Mr. Kushner’s family real estate firm, Kushner Companies. The loan was to refinance the mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper.
Even by the standards of Apollo, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, the previously unreported transaction with the Kushners was a big deal: It was triple the size of the average property loan made by Apollo’s real estate lending arm, securities filings show.
It was one of the largest loans Kushner Companies received last year. An even larger loan came from Citigroup, which lent the firm and one of its partners $325 million to help finance a group of office buildings in Brooklyn.
There is little precedent for a top White House official meeting with executives of companies as they contemplate sizable loans to his business, say government ethics experts.
“This is exactly why senior government officials, for as long back as I have any experience, don’t maintain any active outside business interests,” said Don Fox, the former acting director of the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration and, before that, a lawyer for the Air Force and Navy during Republican and Democratic administrations. “The appearance of conflicts of interest is simply too great.”
The White House referred questions to Mr. Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, who did not dispute that the meetings between Mr. Kushner and the executives took place. This blurring of lines is now a potential liability for Mr. Kushner, who recently lost his top-secret security clearance amid worries from some United States officials that foreign governments might try to gain influence with the White House by doing business with Mr. Kushner.
Investigators working for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election, have asked questions about Mr. Kushner’s interactions with potential investors from overseas, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Kushner’s firm has sought investments from the Chinese insurer Anbang and from the former prime minister of Qatar.
Mr. Kushner resigned as chief executive of Kushner Companies when he joined the White House last January, and he sold a small portion of his stake in the company to a trust controlled by his mother.
But he retained the vast majority of his interest in Kushner Companies. His real estate holdings and other investments are worth as much as $761 million, according to government ethics filings. They are likely worth much more, because that estimate has his firm’s debt subtracted from the value of his holdings.
Public filings show that Mr. Kushner still owns part of the company that received the Apollo loan. The loan was used to refinance a Chicago skyscraper that is the Midwest headquarters for AT&T. Mr. Kushner also still holds a stake in the entity that owns the Brooklyn buildings and received the loan from Citigroup. Mr. Fox, the ethics expert, said Mr. Kushner risked violating the regulations in his meetings with Citigroup and Apollo executives. All of the executives who met with Mr. Kushner have lots to gain or lose in Washington.
Apollo has sought ways to benefit from the White House’s possible infrastructure plan. And its executives, including Mr. Harris, had tens of millions of dollars personally at stake in the tax overhaul that was making its way through Washington last year.
Citigroup, one of the country’s largest banks, is heavily regulated by federal agencies and, like other financial companies, is trying to get the government to relax its oversight of the industry.
Shortly after Kushner Companies received the loan from Apollo, the private equity firm emerged as a beneficiary of the tax cut package that the White House championed. Mr. Trump backed down from his earlier pledge to close a loophole that permits private equity managers to pay taxes on the bulk of their income at rates that are roughly half of ordinary income tax rates. The tax law left the loophole largely intact.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
A funny thing is happening on the American scene: a powerful upwelling of decency. Suddenly, it seems as if the worst lack all conviction, while the best are filled with a passionate intensity. We don’t yet know whether this will translate into political change. But we may be in the midst of a transformative moment.You can see the abrupt turn toward decency in the rise of the #MeToo movement; . . . You can see it in the reactions to the Parkland school massacre. For now, at least, the usual reaction to mass killings — a day or two of headlines, then a sort of collective shrug by the political class and a return to its normal obeisance to the gun lobby — isn’t playing out. Instead, the story is staying at the top of the news, and associating with the N.R.A. is starting to look like the political and business poison it should have been all along.
And I’d argue that you can see it at the ballot box, where hard-right politicians in usually reliable Republican districts keep being defeated thanks to surging activism by ordinary citizens.
This isn’t what anyone, certainly not the political commentariat, expected.
After the 2016 election many in the news media seemed all too ready to assume that Trumpism represented the real America, even though Hillary Clinton had won the popular vote and — Russian intervention and the Comey letter aside — would surely have won the electoral vote, too, but for the Big Sneer, the derisive tone adopted by countless reporters and pundits. There have been hundreds if not thousands of stories about grizzled Trump supporters sitting in diners, purportedly showing the out-of-touchness of our cultural elite.
[T]hose pink pussy hats [at the Women's March] may have represented the beginning of real social and political change.
Political scientists have a term and a theory for what we’re seeing on #MeToo, guns and perhaps more: “regime change cascades.” . . . . When people see the status quo as immovable, they tend to be passive even if they are themselves dissatisfied. . . . . but once they see others visibly taking a stand, they both gain more confidence in their dissent and become more willing to act on it — and by their actions they may induce the same response in others, causing a kind of chain reaction.
Such cascades explain how huge political upheavals can quickly emerge, seemingly out of nowhere.
[N]othing says that such cascades have to be positive either in their motivations or in their results. The period 2016-17 clearly represented a sort of Alt-Right Spring — springtime for fascists? — in which white supremacists and anti-Semites were emboldened not just by Donald Trump’s election but by the evidence that there were more like-minded people than anyone realized, both in the U.S. and Europe
I nevertheless find the surge of indignation now building in America hugely encouraging. And yes, I think it’s all one surge. The #MeToo movement, the refusal to shrug off the Parkland massacre, the new political activism of outraged citizens (many of them women) all stem from a common perception: namely, that it’s not just about ideology, but that far too much power rests in the hands of men who are simply bad people. . . . Exhibit A for that proposition is, of course, the tweeter in chief himself.
At the same time, what strikes me about the reaction to this growing backlash is not just its vileness, but its lameness. Trump’s response to Parkland — let’s arm teachers! — wasn’t just stupid, it was cowardly, an attempt to duck the issue, and I think many people realized that.
Or consider the growing wildness of speeches by right-wing luminaries like Wayne LaPierre of the N.R.A. They’ve pretty much given up on making any substantive case for their ideas in favor of rants about socialists trying to take away your freedom. It’s scary stuff, but it’s also kind of whiny; it’s what people sound like when they know they’re losing the argument.
Again, there’s no guarantee that the forces of decency will win. In particular, the U.S. electoral system is in effect rigged in favor of Republicans, so Democrats will need to win the popular vote by something like seven percentage points to take the House. But we’re seeing a real uprising here, and there’s every reason to hope that change is coming.
Donald Trump and the Republicans sold their slapdash effort at tax reform as a boon to the middle class. As the law goes into effect, however, new polling suggests that most Americans are struggling to see any benefit at all in their paychecks.
A survey from Politico and Morning Consult found that only 37 percent of employed people have seen an increase in their paychecks since the law went into effect, while 53 percent of people have not noticed a change.
One big difference between the people who are seeing a pay increase and those who aren't? Income. “Our polling shows high-income earners are more likely to have noticed an increase in their paychecks as a result of the tax bill," said Kyle Dropp, Morning Consult’s co-founder and chief research officer.
Only 16 percent of people with an income under $50,000 a year said they noticed a pay increase. That number rises to 33 percent of people with income between $50,000 and $100,000, and 40 percent for people who make more than $100,000.
These findings emphasize the fact that the bill was never designed to be a tax cut for working Americans. It was designed, first and foremost, to be a massive giveaway for corporations. Once again, the GOP sold a policy to the American people that was a total bait-and-switch.
When Republicans put together their tax bill last year, it was not much of a surprise to see that its centerpiece was a gigantic corporate tax cut, lowering the statutory corporate rate from 35 percent down to 21 percent. This cut accounted for about $1 trillion of the bill’s total $1.5 trillion cost, but Republicans said it really wasn’t about helping corporations at all.
No, the real target was the workers: Corporations would take the money and use it to create new jobs and raise the wages of those working for them, as trickle-down economics did its magical work.
Democrats, on the other hand, said it was a scam. They charged that workers would see only a fraction of the benefits, and instead corporations would use most of their windfall for things like stock buybacks, which increase share prices and benefit the wealthy people who own the vast majority of stocks.
[I]t has been only two months since President Trump signed the bill into law, and we’re already learning what anyone with any sense knew at the time: Everything Democrats predicted is turning out to be right. Let’s look at this report in the New York Times, which describes how stock buybacks are reaching record levels: Almost 100 American corporations have trumpeted such plans in the past month. American companies have announced more than $178 billion in planned buybacks . . . .
Those so-called buybacks are good for shareholders, including the senior executives who tend to be big owners of their companies’ stock. A company purchasing its own shares is a time-tested way to bolster its stock price.
But the purchases can come at the expense of investments in things like hiring, research and development and building new plants — the sort of investments that directly help the overall economy.
This is exactly what Democrats warned would happen. How could Democrats have been so clairvoyant? Do they own a time machine?
Well, no. They applied logic, looked at data and understood history. Republicans, on the other hand, were spinning out a ludicrous fantasy with no basis whatsoever.
Among the things Democrats pointed out was that even before the tax cut, corporations were making near-record profits and sitting on mountains of cash; if they wanted to invest, create jobs and raise wages, they already had the means to do it. They also observed that even before the tax cut passed, corporations were saying publicly that they intended to use the money for stock buybacks.
How many times do we have to play this game? When a new policy debate emerges, Democrats try to make an argument that has some connection to reality, while Republicans make absurd claims in the knowledge that even if they get debunked in the occasional “news analysis” piece, on the whole they’ll be treated with complete seriousness, no matter how ridiculous they are.