Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

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An Unfortunate Step Backwards

June 5, 2017

On this World Environment Day we are left to ponder the latest chapter in human irresponsibility, the decision by Mr. Trump to have the United States, the second greatest polluter in the world, withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

This decision manifests the President’s unacceptable lack of understanding of reality. After hearing his comments and speech, one is left to wonder if he actually read the agreement. Trump’s assessment of the Paris accord and its supposed effect on our nation once again displays his “willful ignorance and disinterest” and “failure of intellectual virtue” as columnist David Brooks (a Republican, no less) aptly phrases it.

This is an agreement involving a non-binding timetable for the reduction of carbon emissions. No country is imposing restrictions on any other country, contrary to Mr. Trump’s assertions. Under the agreement, we already have the freedom to make adjustments as dictated by our circumstances without penalty.

Trump claims that the accord “would effectively decapitate our coal industry.” For those who pay attention, the coal industry was in decline long before the accord because of the availability of cleaner and cheaper energy sources. As a matter of fact, even the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham, Kentucky, switched to solar power in order to save money.

He said in his speech that he “was elected to represent the people of Pittsburg, not Paris”. It is of some interest to note that the people of Pittsburg voted overwhelmingly in favor of Hillary Clinton and is a green city of its own volition.

Economically, there is widespread agreement that any short-term gains made by the fossil fuel industry will be greatly offset by our inability to capitalize on the inevitable world-wide shift to renewable energy. By leaving the Paris agreement, we jeopardize our potential to be at the vanguard of clean technology and the economic gains that come with it, a vacuum sure to be filled by other industrial nations, notably China.

This withdrawal seems to be more about sending a misguided “nationalist” message to the world (courtesy of the unelected Steve Bannon) than about global warming. It is the product of the bunker mentality of a man who sees not facts or points of view but instead a pantheon of enemies composed of any person or group who disagrees with him.

Mr. Trump has chosen to put us in the company of only Nicaragua (who voted against the accord because it wasn’t tough enough) and Syria in the world community. He has basically abdicated the leadership role the United States had formerly embraced in this critical issue. Instead of forging ahead in the field of sustainable energy, he has chosen to go backwards in spite of the opposition of a large number major corporations (including, amazingly enough, Exxon), 211 mayors representing 54 million Americans, and his own Secretary of State.

By now there should be no question about climate change being affected by carbon emissions caused by mankind (though some in the current administration still have their heads in the sand on this one) and no question that an immediate concerted effort is needed to curtail the damage being done before it is too late. Any negative impact this may have on our economy (and that is indeed disputable) is far outweighed by the positive impact we could and should make concerning the future health of this planet and the future generations that will inhabit it.

The Paris accord is by no means perfect, but at the very least it takes a step forward in uniting the nations of this planet in a common cause, one that is critical to us all. To abandon it is an act of self-absorbed fantasy which only serves to accelerate the advance towards an incomprehensible cataclysm. The reality is that we are all in this together. It is a time for America to step up, not take this unfortunate step backwards.

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The Hundred Day Hustle

May 2, 2017

“My fellow Americans, I truly believe that the first 100 days of my Administration has been just about the most successful in our country’s history.”

Just about the most successful in our country’s history!? Talk about hyperbole!

Donald Trump hustled a large portion of the American voters with his sales pitch during the election campaign, and now one hundred days into his administration, he is still at it.

He has resorted to his histrionic campaign-style speeches as of late, full of inflated and often inaccurate assessments of accomplishments, patriotic platitudes, and attacks on anyone who disagrees with him, particularly the press. But on closer examination of the facts — something foreign to the normal Trump modus operandi — one gets a far less rosy picture.

For example, let us examine Trump’s 28 bills signed, something he points out with quite a bit of puffery as being second only to Harry Truman’s 55. Closer scrutiny, though, reveals that most of these are not of great significance.

Three of the bills appoint individuals to the board at the Smithsonian Institute, two of them give names to buildings, and one designates a location for a National Memorial.

Thirteen of the bills are reversals of Obama regulations rather than ones breaking any new legislative ground. Though these reversals affect important issues, they are the product of the mechanism of the Congressional Review Act that requires such reversals to get through Congress in the first hundred days.

Conspicuous by their absence are the ten pieces of legislation that Trump promised during the first hundred days in his much-ballyhooed “Contract with the American Voter,” such as a repeal and/or replacement of the Affordable Care Act (the only one of the bunch to actually make an appearance and which couldn’t make it through a Republican-controlled Congress), tax reform (in spite of the rushed presentation of a one page outline proposal lacking any salient clarifying details), infrastructure investment, school choice, military spending, and affordable childcare and eldercare, to name a few.

On the economic front, there are many instances of taking credit where credit is not due. The incorrect claim of 500,000 plus jobs created by the Trump administration included the final months of the Obama presidency; the actual number was 317,000. For one who claimed to be the Great Job Creator, Trump’s average for the two months of his reign thus far is 158,500 compared to Obama’s average for 2016 of 187,00 per month. The much-touted Keystone pipeline is expected to employ only 35 people permanently; the estimated 42,000 other jobs would be temporary (3,900 of them in construction) lasting only while it is being built. Additionally, the investment and job creation in the auto industry is not in actuality Trump’s doing. The Ford decision of canceling its new plant in Mexico in favor of Arizona was made in 2011, and the billion dollar investment plans that General Motors and Fiat Chrysler announced had been years in the making.

An extremely problematic though less talked about issue of this new administration concerns the vacancies yet unfilled by Trump that are critical to the day-to-day functioning of government — the deputy secretaries and undersecretaries, chief financial officers, ambassadors, general counsels, and heads of smaller agencies — which are causing anxiety and frustration for his Cabinet secretaries. The Senate has given confirmation to 26 Trump picks in these first hundred days, but there are 530 senior-level jobs that have remained vacant, and Trump has advanced only 37 nominees for those. The turmoil within the Trump team certainly has not helped to expedite this critical task.

Another supposed feather in Trump’s cap, the Tomahawk missile attack on an airbase in Syria as retaliation for a sarin gas attack by Assad on his own people, turned out to be more spectacle than substance. With no real strategy formulated to deal with the Syrian situation, it was a one-and-done operation, and the airbase was up and running the following day.

Even the centerpiece of Trump’s “success,” the confirmation of a conservative to the Supreme Court, is not so much the accomplishment of Trump as it is the result of the ethically indefensible obstructionist tactics used by the Republicans in Congress to block the Obama appointment of the eminently qualified Merrick Garland.

Clearly the first one hundred days of any endeavor is at best an arbitrary yardstick by which to measure success. However, Trump apparently wants it both ways. To proclaim his “tremendous accomplishments” during that time period while at the same time downplaying the importance of that benchmark is ingenuous and hypocritical. But then again, what else should we expect from the master of the hustle.

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The Myth of “The Mess”

March 1, 2017

There was something different about Donald Trump’s address to Congress Tuesday night. He seemed presidential, something that is notable only because it is an aberration from what has been the case throughout his campaign and his first month in office. But there was unfortunately something that was the same: his unnecessary diminution of the previous administration. He made a point of cherry-picking “facts” which would portray the supposedly dire circumstances he inherited (from which he, of course, will now grandly extricate us). He had referred to this previously as the “mess” he was left.

Yes, indeed. What a mess Donald Trump was left. Let’s take a look at it.

When Barak Obama took office (when there was a real mess), the Dow was at 6,626. When he left, it was at 19,875. The country had 82 straight months of private sector job growth — the longest streak in the history of the United States — and 11.3 million new jobs had been created. Unemployment went down from 10% to 4.7% (the intentionally misleading 94 million “out of the labor force” statistic used by Trump includes high school and college students, people with disabilities, stay-at-home parents, and retirees — the actual number of unemployed according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics is about 7.6 million). Consumer confidence had gone from 37.7 to 98.1 The U.S. auto industry was saved — the number of American cars sold at the beginning of his term was 10.4 million and upon his exit 17.5 million. Corporate profits were up by 144%. U.S. exports were up 28%.

Additionally, homelessness among U.S. veterans has dropped by half and billions of dollars were added to mental health care for veterans. Reliance on foreign oil is at a 40 year low. Solar and wind power are at an all time high. Abortion is down. Violent crime is down. High school graduation rates hit 83%, an all time high.

Are things perfect? No, they’re not, nor have they ever been. Are there problems that need to be addressed? Absolutely, as there always are.

Are things a “mess?” Sorry, that’s just not the case.

It is good that Mr. Trump laid out his vision and gave us his plans (though a few specifics would have been nice) and most importantly acted like a president (hopefully something that will become a daily occurrence). However, it is too bad that he chose to spend time pointing a finger of blame at the “mess” he was left. Taking shots, particularly undeserved ones, at the previous administration in this address — purportedly one in a spirit of unification —  is beneath the office Mr. Trump now occupies.

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Protecting America

February 28, 2017

Donald Trump often proclaims that one of his primary goals is protecting America. This is the reason he has given for his travel restrictions directed at seven majority Muslim nations, the fear of terrorist attacks being the driving force behind it. It behooves us to look at the justification for this deservedly controversial measure.

Let us examine these facts.

The countries falling under the restrictions are Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen. The total number of terrorists from these countries who have perpetrated acts of violence in America is zero. The countries from which terrorists staging attacks in America have come are Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, and Chechnya. Not one of those countries is included in the ban. Furthermore, intelligence analysts in the Department of Homeland Security concluded in an internal report that the “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.”

Over the past decade, a total of 24 Americans have been killed on our soil by foreign-born terrorists. In contrast, over just the past five years, the U.S. has averaged 11,564 gun homicides a year. That is an average of 32 per day. This puts the gun homicide rate in our country over 25 times higher than that of other developed countries.

How then, in light of this information, does Trump’s proposal protect America? Clearly the facts indicate that whatever we are now doing is working well on the terrorism front in spite of the public fear mongering on the part of some. The facts also indicate that the area that is in dire need of addressing is protection from homicides involving guns.

The fact of the matter is that the average American is 4,818 times more likely to be shot to death by another American than he or she is to be killed by a terrorist from a Muslim nation.

Why then is this not the primary focus of protecting America? Is it perhaps because the gun lobby has so much undue influence in the halls of our government? Or maybe the knee-jerk reaction is simply greater when it comes to Muslim terrorists?

It is time to take a hard look at what the real danger is and take suitable action to deal with it. The travel restriction makes for flashy headlines and patriotic posturing, but it does not address the real problem. Mr. Trump, if protecting America is truly the goal, then do something about the proliferation of guns in this country and the deadly violence it engenders.

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Welcome to Trump World

February 26, 2017

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It is hard to know where to begin to assess the ignominy that has been the first month of the Trump administration (and I use the word administration loosely — only 14 positions needing confirmation out of 549 have been filled, and Trump hasn’t even nominated anyone to 515 of them as of Feb. 21). It is a world filled with misinformation and distorted half-truths (the fact-checkers have needed to work overtime), classless name-calling, continuous narcissistic delusions of grandeur (biggest victories, largest crowds, greatest cabinet choices), incessant juvenile tweeting, and vitriolic animosity directed at anyone who disagrees with him, all of which has created an unprecedented atmosphere of dissent and resistance in what would normally be a period of grace for a new President.

Much of this reflects the attributes Trump fostered after the mentorship of the ruthless and villainous New York lawyer Roy Cohn in the 1970s. Cohn had gained fame during the witch hunt that was the McCarthy hearings, taking great pride in ruining lives, demeaning his adversaries, and freely making things up to suit his cause (sound familiar?).

Trump learned several lessons from Cohn which he had applied consistently throughout his campaign and has continued since his inauguration: don’t let the truth interfere with your agenda; when attacked, hit back viciously and often; never admit you’re wrong; and even if you lose in actuality, claim victory anyway.

The greatest of the casualties of this Trump era thus far (and there have been many) is the truth. He has long subscribed to the infamous fascist method of The Big Lie (no doubt with generous help from his chief goon, Steve Bannon): repeat something — true or not — enough times, and people will start to believe it. His desire to suppress contradictory information coming out in the press is straight out of the playbook of repressive totalitarian regimes from Hitler’s Germany to Putin’s Russia.

This is exactly why Trump and Bannon consider the legitimate free press to be the enemy: it is the primary vehicle for uncovering the often unflattering and inconvenient truth. In the words of one of our esteemed founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, “Our first object should therefore be to leave open … all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”

Trump’s insistent claim has been that the “dishonest news media” has been foisting “fake news” on the people of the country (rather ironic because the majority of it has originated from him and his staff). Reporters, networks, and newspapers have been belittled and shunned, and the smear campaign against the supposed “enemy of the people” has reached a fever pitch.

Sorry, Mr. Trump. You can call any fact that is at odds with what you say “fake news” all you want, but that does not change what it really is. You can malign the press too, but as long as this remains a democracy, their presence will remain a crucial element in maintaining an honest government.

Sadly, some of the easily led (or, more accurately, misled) have swallowed this nonsense hook, line, and sinker. However, history has shown that eventually the truth will find the light of day. And when it does, Mr. Trump will find himself in a different world where veracity and accuracy actually do matter, one where his indisputably unpresidential words and actions shall be held to account.

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Let the Buyer Beware

November 3, 2016

My seventh grade Latin class gave me my first exposure to the phrase caveat emptor — let the buyer beware.

This is a warning that has been necessary since the earliest days of civilization, a call for the consumer to be careful, for what they think they are getting may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Why? Because there have always been those unscrupulous individuals amongst us who try to sell us something that can’t possibly live up to their sales pitch, or worse, that is patently defective.

It is exactly that warning that is needed this election because there has arrived a snake oil salesman promising to cure all our ills the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time, if ever.

His name is Donald Trump, and he is selling himself as a savior who will lead the aggrieved to their promised land. He is not. He is a false prophet who has a lifelong history of serving only one entity: himself.

And just what would you be getting with Donald Trump?

A man who has no real allegiance to the Republican Party. He has switched party affiliation five times over the years to suit his own needs. The only allegiance Trump has ever displayed is to himself.

A man who used five deferments to avoid serving in the military, yet he demeans former prisoner of war veteran John McCain and disparages the Kahn family whose son sacrificed his life in service to his country.

A man who brags of sexual conquests, who committed adultery, who dumped a loyal wife of twelve years because — in his words — she no longer appealed to him sexually after bearing his children, and who has a history of questionable behavior towards women in general.

A man who boasts of his fabulous wealth (though he is in actuality only #156 on the list of American billionaires) as well as his manipulation of the system to pay little in tax money (unlike Warren Buffet, #3 on the list, and most likely you).

A man who has used undocumented immigrants to work on his buildings, Chinese steel to build them, and other people’s money to finance them (losing billions of it in the process).

A man who claims to be the champion of the working man but has a long record of stiffing vendors and contractors.

A man who thinks he knows more than generals though he has never been in war, a man who thinks he knows more than those who have experience in serving the public — something he himself has never done, a man who thinks he is the only one who can solve all the complex problems of a nation when he could not solve problems in the very business enterprises he ran.

A man who uses mockery, slander, and innuendo as campaign tools and lawsuits as a personal weapon.

A man whose path to the White House has been built on the flimsy foundation of “reality” show notoriety, hollow catch phrases, big promises lacking few details of how they will be achieved, and slick commercials rather than any substantial or relevant qualifications or achievements.

That is what you will be getting.

So let the buyer beware. Don’t fall for this promise of an “easy cure,” for there will be no refunds and no returns. What you will end up with is one very bad case of buyer’s remorse.

And the entire country will end up paying for it.

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Look Behind the Curtain

October 9, 2016

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Donald Trump is a great businessman. Just ask him. After all, he made billions. Better yet, he will be able to use his incredible acumen to help the rest of us.

But is Donald Trump really a great businessman? Sure sounds like it. Until you look behind the curtain, that is.

The supposed success of Donald Trump is an illusion being perpetrated by none other than Donald himself. Do people believe him? Apparently quite a few do. Then again, in the famous words of P.T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

To understand Trump’s “philosophy” of business (and, apparently, politics), one must go back to his mentorship under the ruthless New York lawyer Roy Cohn in the 1970s. Cohn had gained fame during the witch hunt that was the McCarthy hearings, taking great pride in ruining lives, demeaning his adversaries, and freely making things up to suit his cause (sound familiar?).

In 1973, Trump hired Cohn when he and his father needed to defend themselves against a federal lawsuit for racial discrimination in housing. In spite of a mountain of incriminating evidence, Trump claimed he was the victim, and Cohn went on the offensive with a massive $100 million lawsuit. The case ended up with Trump being forced to settle, but he learned several lessons from Cohn during the process: use lawsuits as a weapon when attacked, never admit wrongdoing, and even if you lose in actuality, claim victory anyway. Trump did not forget what he learned.

In 1987 Trump embarked on the biggest deal of his life, acquiring the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City. The casino and hotel were both huge and lavish, and Trump spent over a billion dollars on the project. Marvin Roffman, a financial analyst, wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal in which he outlined the unsustainable risk of this enterprise, saying he didn’t believe the company could cover the debt incurred from the loans and the gigantic payroll.

Trump, employing Cohn’s old methodology, threatened a lawsuit against Roffman’s firm unless he apologized or was fired. Roffman refused to back down and was subsequently dismissed by his intimidated firm. By that winter, as Roffman had predicted, the now Trump Taj Mahal found itself in deep financial trouble.

Trump had borrowed tremendous amounts of money — dangerous amounts, according to financial experts. He had bought the Plaza Hotel, an airline, and several casinos in Atlantic City. He overextended himself, and when the businesses did poorly, disaster struck. He blamed everyone but himself for the situation.

Trump and his companies owed over $3 billion, much of it to the banks from whom he had so freely borrowed. In a meeting organized by the bankers, Midlantic National Bank vice president Ben Berzin reported that Trump didn’t seem to comprehend the size of the problem or have any ideas how to resolve it.

“As for being a CEO, in understanding numbers, in understanding the ramifications, it doesn’t seem like he took economics or accounting in college,” Berzin remarked.

In the end, the bankers decided that rather than foreclose on the properties involved, it would be of more value to keep his name on the buildings but remove him from a position of decision-making power as CEO. They gave him a $450,000 a month allowance to continue only in the role of a promoter. After all, as Berzin commented, “He’s the P.T. Barnum of the 21st century.”

With the casinos still deeply in debt, Trump went in a new direction by turning to Wall Street. His enterprises became publicly traded on the stock market with Trump as the pitchman. At their high, the DJT stocks sold at $35 a share, though their final value sank to a dismal $1.60 a share.

Insiders looked at Trump’s stewardship of a publicly traded company “like leaving a kid locked in a candy store.” He paid himself a $44 million salary for “services” and was reimbursed millions more for a private plane, a helicopter, and “administrative costs.”

Trump personally made tens of millions of dollar a year while the stock prices dropped. Three times the company filed for bankruptcy, and investors lost billions. He never earned any profit for his shareholders, and many pensioners were set back severely because of the performance of these stocks in which their retirement funds had been invested.

Though the failure was his, he took neither the loss nor the responsibility. When asked by a reporter about the financial problems, he smirked and asked, “Why do you say they’re problems?” He described it as a success and blamed the shareholders themselves for their losses.

In light of all this, how did the widely held perception that he’s a great businessman proliferate? After leaving this financial mess behind him, he began selling his well-known name. He raked in the profits for doing no more than allowing his brand to be put on other people’s buildings. Those walking by would see the Trump name on properties and assume that they must be another part of his vast empire. They were not.

Then in a masterstroke of showmanship, he brought his act to television with his show The Apprentice. In a controlled environment that made him look knowledgeable, in-charge, and all-powerful, he had a ready-made audience of potential voters seeing him in nothing but a favorable light. Though called “reality TV,” it bore absolutely no connection to any reality that would impact anyone in the country outside of himself and the cultivation of his image.

Now we are seeing the fallout of these years, both in his ability to even be able to run for the office of President in spite of having no relevant experience or qualifications of substance as well as in the controversies now coming to light, the most prominent being his unrevealed tax return information. According to him, his avoidance of paying his fair share of taxes is “smart,” and his defense is that it was legal. Perhaps so, but that does not make it admirable or acceptable. At best it is selfish; at worst it epitomizes the callous indifference of a wealthy and arrogant manipulator of the system.

So you want to vote for Trump? Go ahead, it’s your prerogative. But don’t do so because of his self-trumpeted prowess as a businessman, for it simply is not true.

Just like in the Wizard of Oz, go look behind the curtain, and all you’ll see there is the little man who controls the illusion.

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