Tag Archives: Trump

Arabian Knights?

It’s obvious that President Trump never met a rich autocrat he didn’t like.

We’ve seen him kiss up to Putin, find common ground–and hair– with “Little Rocket Man.” And his first trip abroad as President was to Saudi Arabia.

Trump’s cozy relationship with the Saudis is finally getting some attention, in the wake of the presumed murder of a Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who had been critical of the regime. And the relationship was, indeed, quite cozy. It appears that Trump hasn’t just owed the various bailouts of his bad business bets to Russian oligarchs–the Saudis have been equally helpful.

As Talking Points Memo has reported,

He’s booked hotel rooms and meeting spaces to them, sold an entire floor in one of his buildings to them and, in desperate moments in his career, gotten a billionaire from the country to buy his yacht and New York’s Plaza Hotel overlooking Central Park.

President Donald Trump’s ties to Saudi Arabia run long and deep, and he’s often boasted about his business ties with the kingdom.

“I love the Saudis,” Trump said when announcing his presidential run at Trump Tower in 2015. “Many are in this building.”

According to former federal ethics chief Walter Shaub, the Saudis have continued funneling money to Trump during his Presidency. Shaub is currently advising a watchdog group that is suing Trump for violating the Emoluments Clause by continuing to profit from foreign government ties to his business.

For a man who is so critical of Muslims, Trump sure is willing to make concessions when money is involved.

Trump has said that he doesn’t want to do anything that might scuttle a pending huge arms sale to the Saudis. (America–that “Shining City on a Hill”–seems perfectly okay with arming the worst people on the globe…).

In all fairness, Trump isn’t the only President who has befriended this deeply troubling Mideast power, mostly for their oil. But in his case, it’s clearly personal.

In 1991, as Trump was teetering on personal bankruptcy and scrambling to raise cash, he sold his 282-foot Trump yacht “Princess” to Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin-Talal for $20 million, a third less than what he reportedly paid for it.

Four years later, the prince came to his rescue again, joining other investors in a $325 million deal for Trump’s money-losing Plaza Hotel.

In 2001, Trump sold the entire 45th floor of the Trump World Tower across from the United Nations in New York for $12 million, the biggest purchase in that building to that point, according to the brokerage site Streeteasy. The buyer: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Shortly after he announced his run for president, Trump began laying the groundwork for possible new business in the kingdom. He registered eight companies with names tied to the country, such as “THC Jeddah Hotel Advisor LLC” and “DT Jeddah Technical Services,” according to a 2016 financial disclosure report to the federal government. Jeddah is a major city in the country.

The relationship didn’t cool when Trump became President. Far from it.

A public relations firm working for the kingdom spent nearly $270,000 on lodging and catering at his Washington hotel near the Oval Office through March of last year, according to filings to the Justice Department. A spokesman for the firm told The Wall Street Journal that the Trump hotel payments came as part of a Saudi-backed lobbying campaign against a bill that allowed Americans to sue foreign governments for responsibility in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The Saudi government has been a valued customer at the Trump International Hotel in New York, where a visit in March by a group accompanying Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman boosted room rentals at the hotel by 13 percent for the first three months of the year, after two years of decline.

There’s much more, but I was particularly intrigued by this report from Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Back in 2016, Jamal Khashoggi, who by all indications was murdered by Trump and Kushner’s buddy Mohammad bin Salman at the Saudi embassy in Turkey, was banned from writing for any newspaper in Saudi Arabia because he wrote something critical of Donald Trump. Until then, he had a weekly column in a Saudi paper.

Birds of a feather….

 

About That “City On A Hill”

Back when Republicans were (mostly) sane–when they cared about good government at least as much as raw power, I worked in the Indianapolis mayoral administration of Bill Hudnut. Bill had his faults, as we all do, but he passionately loved the city and tried to do what was best for all of its inhabitants.

He was also a former Presbyterian minister who often compared America–and to a lesser extent Indianapolis– to “The Shining City on the Hill.” We were to be a beacon, an ideal to which others aspired.

In the absence of a real newspaper, I can’t offer an educated evaluation of today’s Indianapolis, but no one in their right mind thinks today’s United States is a beacon to be emulated. It isn’t simply our massive and embarrassing policy failures (think health care, the environment, criminal justice, race relations, women’s rights and economic justice, for starters…)

It’s the corruption.

As the New York Times has recently–amply, overwhelmingly– documented, our President is a crook. Not that most of us are surprised, given the indictments of his associates, the scandals of his cabinet , and his whole sordid history.

Paul Krugman has responded analytically to the evidence:  

The blockbuster New York Times report on the Trump family’s history of fraud is really about two distinct although linked kinds of fraudulence.

On one side, the family engaged in tax fraud on a huge scale, using a variety of money-laundering techniques to avoid paying what it owed. On the other, the story Donald Trump tells about his life — his depiction of himself as a self-made businessman who made billions starting from humble roots — has always been a lie: Not only did he inherit his wealth, receiving the equivalent of more than $400 million from his father, but Fred Trump bailed his son out after deals went bad.

So, Krugman says, voters who bought Trump’s highly inaccurate version of Donald Trump bought snake-oil. But the bigger, and much more damaging fraud is the story we tell ourselves about America the Meritocracy.

The tale of the Trump money is part of a bigger story. Even among those unhappy at the extent to which we live in an era of soaring inequality and growing concentration of wealth at the top, there has been a tendency to believe that great wealth is, more often than not, earned more or less honestly. It’s only now that the amounts of sheer corruption and lawbreaking that underlie our march toward oligarchy have started to come into focus.

Until recently, my guess is that most economists, even tax experts, would have agreed that tax avoidance by corporations and the wealthy — which is legal — was a big issue, but tax evasion— hiding money from the tax man — was a lesser one. It was obvious that some rich people were exploiting legal if morally dubious loopholes in the tax code, but the prevailing view was that simply defrauding the tax authorities and hence the public wasn’t that widespread in advanced countries.

But this view always rested on shaky foundations. After all, tax evasion, almost by definition, doesn’t show up in official statistics, and the super-wealthy aren’t in the habit of mouthing off about what great tax cheats they are. To get a real picture of how much fraud is going on, you either have to do what The Times did — exhaustively investigate the finances of a particular family — or rely on lucky breaks that reveal what was previously hidden.

We’ve had some of those “lucky breaks,” as Krugman points out. Thanks to the Panama Papers and other leaks, we now know that outright tax evasion by the very wealthy is pervasive. Researchers estimate that the rich pay on average 25 percent less than they owe–enough to pay for the entire food stamp program. And of course, that tax evasion serves to entrench privilege and allows it to be passed on to the heirs of that privilege.

Just like Trump’s daddy did.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have been “systematically defunding the Internal Revenue Service, crippling its ability to investigate tax fraud. We don’t just have government by tax cheats; we have government of tax cheats, for tax cheats.”

It’s not just that the president of the United States is, as veteran tax reporter David Cay Johnston put it, a “financial vampire,” cheating taxpayers the way he has cheated just about everyone else who deals with him.

Beyond that, our trend toward oligarchy — rule by the few — is also looking more and more like kakistocracy — rule by the worst, or at least the most unscrupulous. The corruption isn’t subtle; on the contrary, it’s cruder than almost anyone imagined. It also runs deep, and it has infected our politics, quite literally up to its highest levels.

So much for “the Shining City on the Hill.” America is more like an inner-city neighborhood where kids look up to the rich drug dealer.

Hostile Sexism

In yesterday’s post, I basically vented about the sexism being displayed by the Senate GOP during the Kavanaugh confirmation process. Today, I want to follow up with a broader discussion of what a recent sociological study has dubbed “hostile sexism.

An article from Salon discussing the study began–predictably–with the Kavanaugh fiasco, and the remarks from Trump and Senate Republicans.

Republican elites are also defending Kavanaugh, with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, going so far as to say that even if the rape allegations were true they might be excusable: “I think it would be hard for senators not to consider who he is today”. Once again, per America’s tradition, culture and habit, elite white men are protected from the consequences of their behavior.Toxic white masculinity is encouraged in America. White men are infantilized, while black and brown men and boys are pathologized.

The article described the relevance to these recent events of a recent study by University of Kansas sociologists David Smith and Eric Hanley. Their research wasn’t limited in its scope to sexism, although it did address what it called “a socially combustible mix of racism and sexism, in combination with anger and bullying.”

Writing in “The Anger Games: Who Voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Election, and Why?”, which appeared in a recent issue of the journal Critical Sociology, Smith and Hanley summarize their new research:

“We find that Trump’s supporters voted for him mainly because they share his prejudices, not because they’re financially stressed. It’s true, as exit polls showed, that voters without four-year college degrees were likelier than average to support Trump. But millions of these voters — who are often stereotyped as “the white working class” — opposed Trump because they oppose his prejudices. These prejudices, meanwhile, have a definite structure, which we argue should be called authoritarian: negatively, they target minorities and women; and positively, they favor domineering and intolerant leaders who are uninhibited about their biases.

The authors research confirmed what other research about the 2016 election, from political scientists as well as sociologists, has found: what unified Trump’s voters was not “economic anxiety” but prejudice and intolerance, and a significant dose of misogyny.

Smith and Hanley identified eight attitudes that interacted with each other and strongly predicted support for Trump: identifying as conservative; support for a “domineering” leader; Christian fundamentalism, prejudice against immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims and women; and “pessimism about the economy.”

The research demonstrates the ways in which racism and sexism reinforce each other, and predicts support for candidates willing to bully both women and people of color.

Most Trump voters cast their ballots for him with their eyes open, not despite his prejudices but because of them. Their partisanship, whether positive (toward Trump and the Republicans) or negative (against Clinton and the Democrats), is intense.

This partisanship is anchored in anger and resentment among mild as well as strong Trump voters. Anger, not fear, was the emotional key to the Tea Party, and that seems to be true for Trumpism as well. If so, the challenge for progressives is greater than many people have imagined. Hostility to minorities and women cannot be wished away; nor can the wish for domineering leaders. The anger games are far from over.

The Salon article included an interview with one of the researchers that is well worth reading in its entirety. This response to a question, especially, explains his disagreement with the approach of many liberals to Trump voters:

Many liberals are reluctant to believe that large numbers of people are as mean-spirited as their words and actions might suggest. They want to think that fear, not vindictiveness, drives support for vindictive rhetoric and policy. That’s generous, but I think it’s also a special kind of blindness.

In fact, we seem to have two opposite forms of emotional blindness. Many liberals can’t believe that large numbers of people are vindictive while many conservatives scoff at the idea that liberals are not vindictive. Liberals often make excuses for people who show signs of intolerance. Right-wingers, in contrast, often laugh at claims to “feel your pain.”

These attitudes shouldn’t be ignored. Right-wingers who hate liberals are problematic, and liberals whose reflex is to forgive them are problematic too.

This research helps explain the behavior of the Senate Republicans that set me off yesterday.

It doesn’t excuse it.

 

And The Evidence Accumulates…

“Hate is a normal part of life. Get over it.”

Offensive as that sentiment about the “normalcy” of hate is, it’s probably correct. I prefer a different version of “getting over it,” however; the challenge of our time–made critical by Trump and Trumpism–is indeed “getting over it.” As in, refusing to normalize or condone it.

The quotation itself came about halfway through a recent Washington Post article documenting the rise of racist and anti-Semitic messages in the wake of Trump’s election.

Racist and anti-Semitic content has surged on shadowy social media platforms — spiking around President Trump’s Inauguration Day and the “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville — spreading hate speech and extremist views to mainstream audiences, according to an analysis published this week.

The findings, from a newly formed group of scientists named the Network Contagion Research Institute who studied hundreds of millions of social media messages, bolster a growing body of evidence about how extremist speech online can be fueled by real-world events.

It’s actually pretty predictable that messages from “real world” events would be discussed and amplified on social media. What is far more disturbing is the iterative relationship between social media and the “real world,” revealed by the article. The cycle begins with a real-world event–in this case, Trump’s election–that triggers a burst of online response–in this case, a celebration of bigotry. That online response begins in the dark corners of the Internet, but thanks to its connection to the “real world,” it doesn’t stay there.  It infects more mainstream outlets.

One of the studies referenced in the article identified two such fringe forums, and found that

[a]lthough small relative to leading social media platforms, exerted an outsize influence on overall conversation online by transmitting hateful content to such mainstream sites as Reddit and Twitter, the researchers said. Typically this content came in the form of readily shareable “memes” that cloaked hateful ideas in crass or humorous words and imagery. (Facebook, the largest social media platform, with more than 2 billion users, is harder to study because of the closed nature of its platform and was not included in the research.)

“There may be 100 racists in your town, but in the past they would have to find each other in the real world. Now they just go online,” said one of the researchers, Jeremy Blackburn, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “These things move these radicals, these outliers in society, closer, and it gives them bigger voices as well.”

Niche hate movements that were once relegated to what the article calls the “dark corners of the Web” are increasingly influencing the mainstream.

The QAnon conspiracy theory began circulating on the same platforms last fall before exploding into public view in August, after months of refining its central allegations, purportedly from a top-secret government agent, that President Trump is secretly battling a shadowy cabal of sex rings, death squads and deep-state elites.

Trump is central to the most recent explosion of online racism and anti-Semitism. Surges in the number and intensity of “alt-right’ messaging occurred immediately after his inauguration and again after his “fine people on both sides” comments after Charlottesville. The alt-right celebrated–and continues to hail– the legitimacy they believe his election and rhetoric have conferred upon the white Christian supremicist worldview.

The article compares the spread of these tribal and racist sentiments to a virus for which there is not, as yet, an antidote.

The findings, researchers wrote, suggested a “worrying trend of real-world action mirroring online rhetoric” — and a possible feedback loop of online and offline hate.

That feedback loop requires both online and real-world support. We may not be able to do much about the rancid corners of the web, but we can vote to replace Trumpworld’s spineless enablers in the House and Senate.

Think of your midterm vote as an antibiotic.

Define “A Great Economy”

Our demented President continues to brag about the economy, claiming sole credit for producing good numbers, and (as usual) fabricating many of them.

That said, according to the metrics used by most economists and pundits, the economy is doing quite well.

Republicans running for the House and Senate are trying hard to emphasize that economic “good news,” and one of the more puzzling aspects of the midterm campaigns has been the lack of traction those efforts have generated. Usually, when the economy is humming along, that’s good news for the incumbents; this time, economic arguments don’t seem to be convincing many voters.

The “chattering classes” attribute this to a variety of factors– Trump’s extreme unpopularity, concerns about the negative effects of Trump’s tariffs and the escalating trade war with China. Those things clearly matter, but I have a different explanation: we are using the wrong metrics to measure economic performance . I’ve misplaced the link, but I copied the following paragraph from an MSN website that makes the same point.

A humming national aggregate economy does not necessarily translate into improved livelihoods for most workers. Since the recession, nominal wage growth has been anemic compared to past business cycle peaks. Health-care and education costs keep rising while job benefits disappear. Most households are still in rather precarious financial straits. And there’s still a large population of “shadow” unemployed the official unemployment rate isn’t catching.

According to official statistics, the net worth of the typical American household is still about 20 percent below where it was when Lehman Brothers’ failure triggered the financial crisis. It is true that the gross domestic product is now substantially higher than it was — but a majority of Americans have not seen their incomes improve. And as the above quote notes, the admittedly very good unemployment rate ignores people who have given up looking for work.

If a “good economy” is measured by stock market performance and corporate profitability, then yes, we currently have a good economy. If, however, it is measured both by aggregate indicators and the degree to which citizens share in the prosperity, our economic performance doesn’t look quite so good.

A recent analysis from the Brookings Institution addresses that disconnect. After conceding the positive indicators, the report notes that the labor market continues to struggle.

 Wage growth is still sluggish, with modest gains offset by inflation. Despite recent increases, the share of prime-age Americans in the labor force is still slightly below the pre-Recession level. Levels of unemployment vary widely across places and the population by key demographic characteristics.

The report was generated as part of Brookings annual update of the employment rate gap (which, as the authors explained, differs from the jobs gap), calculating each indicator  by race/ethnicity and level of education. The employment rate gap is the  difference between the demographically adjusted 2007 employment-to-population ratio and the same ratio at other points in time.

As the report concluded,

The Great Recession inflicted economic pain on many American families, but its burden was not equally distributed. Ultimately, the brunt of the Great Recession was borne by those without the protection of postsecondary education. College raises average lifetime earnings, and it also helps insulate workers from economic downturns, providing economic security in the times they need it most. Finally, racial disparities have been less severe in recovery than in the worst years of the Great Recession, though differences in employment rates persist. For the American labor market to be truly healthy, it needs to work for all people—not just some.

A truly “great” economy distributes its largesse widely. It is that often-referenced rising tide that lifts all boats.

When most of the benefits generated by economic productivity enrich only the top 1%–or even the top 10%–that economy is only “great” for the pigs who have monopolized access to the trough.