Archive

October 7th, 2016

Searching for truth in Trump's tax return

    Rudy Giuliani has tried to make it easy for anyone who might be perplexed about his friend Donald Trump's income tax maneuvers. All you need to know, Giuliani said Sunday on CNN, is that the tax code is complex and Trump is a "genius" for figuring out how to navigate it.

    Giuliani was trying to help viewers understand the New York Times's revelation that Trump may have used $916 million in business losses to legally lower his federal income taxes -- or avoid paying them at all from 1992 to 2010.

    "The man's a genius," Giuliani said. "He knows how to operate the tax code to the benefit of the people he's serving."

    "Operate the tax code" is a fun, Trumpy locution, but this has nothing to do with genius. If it did, Trump would have already released his returns in full so the public could have a transparent look at his brilliance.

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Hillary Clinton calls for 'smart and fair trade.' What is that?

    It's not for me to score last week's debate, but I will say this: I watched it with my 14- and 16-year-old kids, and I used the occasion to point out to them: "See, this is the difference between doing your homework and winging it. The road to success is paved with preparation." The fact that this just got me another in a long series of teenage eye-rolls does not negate its truth.

    The only part where Hillary Clinton was less convincing was on trade. Donald Trump has a clear, powerful and deeply misguided message. He aspires to take America back to the 1950s, when trade flows were a trickle. To achieve this nostalgic vision, he'll tear up trade agreements, kick our trading partners' butts (especially China's) in some unspecified way, build walls and raise tariffs. He threw in some incoherent (and incorrect) stuff on VAT taxes for good measure (border-adjusted "value added taxes" do not, as Trump suggests, give our trading partners an unfair advantage).

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Clinton's former prosecutor endorses her for president

    Twenty years ago Michael Chertoff was near the top of the Clintons' enemy list. He was the lead Republican counsel on the Senate Whitewater Committee, one of the first of many Congressional investigations into Hillary Clinton.

    Clinton later cast the only vote in the Senate against him when he was nominated in 2001 to head the Justice Department's criminal division. She was also the lone no vote against Chertoff in 2003 when he was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the third circuit.

    All of this though was before the Republican Party nominated Donald Trump as its presidential candidate. This has shaken the party of Reagan. Chertoff, a life long Republican, will now be voting for the Democrat in November.

    Over the weekend, Chertoff -- the former secretary of Homeland Security -- told me his decision came down to national security. "I realized we spent a huge amount of time in the '90s on issues that were much less important than what was brewing in terms of terrorism," he said. For Chertoff, Clinton "has good judgment and a strategic vision how to deal with the threats that face us."

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October 6th

Donald Trump: Terroristic Man-Toddler

    Donald Trump is a domestic terrorist; only his form of terror doesn’t boil down to blowing things up. He’s the 70-year-old toddler who knows nearly nothing, hurls insults, has simplistic solutions for complex problems and is quick to throw a tantrum. Also, in case you didn’t know it, this toddler is mean to girls and is a bit of a bigot.

    It isn’t so much that he is a strict disciple of radical ideology, but rather that he is devoid of fixed principles, willing to do anything and everything to gain fame, fortune and power. He has an endless, consuming need for perpetual affirmation. This is a bully who just wants to be liked, a man-boy nursing a nagging internal emptiness.

    He’s fickle and spoiled and rotten.

    So, when he loses at something, anything, he lashes out. When someone chastises him for bad behavior, he chafes. This is the kind of silver-spoon scion quick to yell at those he views as less privileged, and therefore less-than, “Do you know who I am?”

    We do now, sir.

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Trump's last tweet?

    Donald J. Trump has now driven home, in a way no apologist, enabler or timid analyst can plausibly deny, that he is far too nasty, immature and frighteningly undisciplined to be president.

    And thanks to Hillary Clinton for the assist: By using the first debate to bring up the case of a Miss Universe who, Trump decided, had put on too much weight, the Democratic nominee unleashed the ugly inner Donald -- the man whom the candidate and his handlers have been trying to hide.

    This should be a wakeup call to political analysts who have gone out of their way since Trump first announced his candidacy to pretend that he was the ingenious creator of a political special sauce who deserved our respect for "speaking his mind." No, Trump all along has been a clinically self-involved con man who never took the issues, the presidency or the future of our country seriously. Can there be any doubt that his campaign is a branding exercise gone, quite literally, mad?

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Trump's tax fixes are mostly helpful to Trump

    "The only news here," Donald Trump's campaign declared in an unsigned statement emailed late Saturday night, "is that the more than 20-year-old alleged tax document was illegally obtained, a further demonstration that The New York Times, like establishment media in general, is an extension of the Clinton Campaign, the Democratic Party and their global special interests."

    No. The news -- unrebutted by the Trump campaign as of this writing -- is that Trump could have avoided paying federal income taxes for 18 years. Assuming the claimed losses were legit, this would have been legal. The opportunity for tax avoidance, which could have shielded as much as $50 million a year in Trump income from any federal income tax liability whatsoever, is the result of rules that permitted him to carry forward net operating losses from his businesses 15 years into the future, and to use those losses to wipe out taxable income for three previous years as well.

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Trump's taxes provide a great example of how the game is rigged

    It turns out that Donald Trump, he of the non-released tax filings, claimed a 1995 income loss so large - $916 million - that the tax software back then couldn't handle it; it didn't have enough space for all the numbers. His lawyer had to separately type in -91 on front of 5,729,293 to report the loss.

    Such losses can be claimed against taxes owed for three prior years and 15 future years, leading the New York Times, which broke the story, to conclude that "it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years."

    To the extent that the story made a splash, it's certainly not because it disabused anyone of the notion that Trump has been sending big checks to the IRS. The conventional wisdom, as purveyed by Hillary Clinton in their first debate, is that he pays little to no taxes, which is why he won't release the returns to the public. The leaked returns just confirm our priors.

    Trump even went as far as to claim, in response to Clinton's allegations, that not paying taxes just means he's "smart."

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Trump’s Fellow Travelers

    Donald Trump has just had an extraordinarily bad week, and Hillary Clinton an extraordinarily good one; betting markets now put Clinton’s odds of winning almost as high as they were just after the Democratic convention. But both Clinton’s virtues and Trump’s vices have been obvious all along. How, then, did the race manage to get so close on the eve of the debate?

    A lot of the answer, I’ve argued, lies in the behavior of the media, which spent the month before the first debate jeering at Clinton, portraying minor missteps as major sins and inventing fake scandals out of thin air. But let us not let everyone else off the hook. Trump couldn’t have gotten as far as he has without the support, active or de facto, of many people who understand perfectly well what he is and what his election would mean, but have chosen not to take a stand.

    Let’s start with the Republican political establishment, which is supporting Trump just as if he were a normal presidential nominee.

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The world is pulling for Clinton

    For a country supposedly in decline, the United States is getting a lot of attention these days. Millions of people around the world, not counting 84 million in the United States, were glued to screens watching the Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump bout on Monday. Vladimir Putin is the new czar of Russia, and Xi Jinping the emperor of China. But who remembers Russia's Duma elections? Hint: They were held on Sept. 18, and to nobody's surprise, Putin won big. Does anybody recall when Xi moved to the head of the Chinese working class? In 2013.

    Go through a pile of European newspapers, and you'll see the U.S. electoral battle unfolding on Page 1. Same for the lead stories on TV. Russia is outmaneuvering the United States in Syria, China is expanding in the Western Pacific. But Clinton and Trump get the ratings - worldwide.

    Why? First, whatever Trump spouts about has-been America, the United States remains the one and only global power - No. 1 in terms of economic, military and cultural clout. What it does, and what it doesn't do, affects the entire world. Hence, the American president is "our" president, too.

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The most shocking part of Donald Trump's tax records isn't the $916 million loss everyone's talking about

    Despite what Donald Trump says, we really can learn a lot from his tax returns - even from the partial ones made public by The New York Times.

    The major takeaway from the three pages of Trump's 1995 returns that the Times made public is that Trump is right when he says the system is rigged. What he doesn't say is that it's rigged in his favor, and in the favor of people like him - and against regular people, those of us who earn money, pay income tax on it, and financially support the country in which we live.

    To keep things relatively simple, I'm telling you what I see in Trump's returns, based on my decades of experience parsing financial filings. I will try not to get bogged down in numbers and technicalities.

    Sure, the $900 million-plus of losses reported by the New York Times - losses that could be used to offset income for a total of 18 years - are totally shocking. Legal, yes. But shocking.

    But there's something I consider even more shocking - although it involves a much smaller number.

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