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“Pulling Back The Curtain”: In The Presidential Race, Atlantic City Isn’t Just Another Place

Hillary Clinton will deliver a speech today in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which at first blush doesn’t seem like an obvious locale for the Democrat. Polls show Clinton with a comfortable lead over Donald Trump in the Garden State, and few expect Republicans to compete seriously in New Jersey in the fall.

But by all appearances, Clinton is headed to Atlantic City to drive home a rather specific point about her opponent’s ostensible strength: his private-sector background. The editorial board of the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, published this piece over the holiday weekend.

There is still a lingering misperception that Donald Trump is some kind of business wizard, but it’s actually easy to identify one of his key strategies for success: He excels at ripping people off.

The Associated Press pulled back the curtain on his ruined casino empire in Atlantic City last week and exposed a gold-plated scam, on in which survivors from the Taj Mahal disaster – a long parade of naïve artisans who still have Trump’s skid marks on their backs – all told similar stories, cautionary tales that make you wonder how anyone would consider him trustworthy enough to hold elected office.

Their consensus: Trump is a master grifter, who uses bullying and arrogance as negotiating methods, before ending the relationship by withholding payments and making contractors settle for far less by threatening them with litigation – knowing the cost of litigation would eat up most of the money in the dispute.

As is usually the case with so many of Trump’s failed business enterprises, it was small businesses that suffered – and in some cases, collapsed – after the Republican’s venture went bankrupt.

As recently as May, Trump boasted, “Atlantic City fueled a lot of growth for me. The money I took out of there was incredible.”

But as the New York Times reported last month, Trump’s ventures in Atlantic City failed – badly. The article quoted a local investment firm’s casino analyst saying, in reference to Trump, “There’s something not right when every single one of your projects doesn’t work out.”

And a USA Today report added this week, “Donald Trump often boasts he made a lot of money in Atlantic City, despite the repeated failures of his casinos there, but what he does not mention is his casino empire’s repeated run-ins with government regulators over broken promises and violating casino rules.”

To hear Donald J. Trump tell it, he’s ready to be the Leader of the Free World because of his extraordinary success as a businessman. The assertion that private-sector experience is relevant to serving in the Oval Office is dubious in itself, but there’s also no reason to accept the underlying claim at face value – because Trump’s business background isn’t nearly as impressive as he likes to pretend.

I realize that casinos may not be as sexy a story as email server protocols – the political world’s interest in IT appears to be endless – but Trump’s Atlantic City efforts show a wealthy developer who made millions while everyone else lost big. It’s the sort of story that should undermine his entire candidacy.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 6, 2016

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Atlantic City, Casino Industry, Donald Trump | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Licking The Bully’s Boots”: Why Would Anyone Want To Be Trump’s VP?

Let’s be honest – Donald Trump is definitely not a team player. A cursory look at his business, entertainment and political careers tells us that, other than family, his litigious bullying means that he usually goes it alone. That’s why we’ve seen so much upheaval among his campaign staff. He tends to be drawn to the most unsavory of characters (Roy Cohn and Paul Manafort) as mentors/partners. But mostly he likes people he can bully. That’s what Mark Bowden reports from the time he spent with Trump back in 1996.

Trump struck me as adolescent, hilariously ostentatious, arbitrary, unkind, profane, dishonest, loudly opinionated, and consistently wrong. He remains the most vain man I have ever met. And he was trying to make a good impression…

It was hard to watch the way he treated those around him, issuing peremptory orders—“Polish this, Tony. Today.” He met with the lady who selected his drapery for the Florida estate—“The best! The best! She’s a genius!”—who had selected a sampling of fabrics for him to choose from, all different shades of gold. He left the choice to her, saying only, “I want it really rich. Rich, rich, elegant, incredible.” Then, “Don’t disappoint me.”…

What was clear was how fast and far one could fall from favor. The trip from “genius” to “idiot” was a flash. The former pilots who flew his plane were geniuses, until they made one too many bumpy landings and became “fucking idiots.” The gold carpeting selected in his absence for the locker rooms in the spa at Mar-a-Lago? “What kind of fucking idiot . . . ?”

We’ve seen the same kind of thing in how he has treated Republicans who have been willing to lick the bully’s boots.

As others have noted, Trump really isn’t that interested in winning the support of fellow politicians. He is a bully, and what he craves is their submission. Once Chris Christie endorsed him, Trump took visible joy in treating the New Jersey governor as a personal lackey, publicly poking fun at his weight and even telling him that he could no longer eat Oreos.

The dilemma is that no matter what you do, Trump’s goal is to make you lose. If you cross him – as Republican Susana Martinez did – you get clobbered. And if you submit, you get clobbered. That’s because, in Donald Trump’s mind, he always has to be the winner and he has no respect for losers.

So now we’re at the point in the 2016 presidential race when all eyes turn to who Trump will pick for the ultimate team-player spot – vice president. Yesterday Sen. Bob Corker wisely withdrew from this contest and it looks as if Sen. Joni Ernst has as well.

What I find interesting is that two of the guys who still seem to be in the running know a thing or two about being a bully themselves – Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie. I’m sure they are both smart enough to know what it means to play on “Team Trump.” So why are they so gung- ho to do so?

First of all, I suspect that they both think that they are smarter bullies and can out-Trump him. That’s what narcissists usually assume. But I also suspect that they have calculated that if Trump actually makes it to the White House, he won’t last long. Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell have already suggested that there are “Constitutional remedies” if he were to veer off course. In other words, he would be impeached and his vice president would be the man left standing. Neither Gingrich or Christie want to be Trump’s lapdog permanently. They want to be president and see Donald Trump as a way to get there.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 7, 2016

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Chris Christie, Donald Trump, GOP Vice President Candidate, Newt Gingrich | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Enough With The ‘Optics’ And The ‘Narrative'”: There’s No Reason Journalists Should Have Any Shortage Of Questions To Ask

When an important news story breaks, Americans turn to journalists for answers. Answers to questions like: Does this story “play into a narrative”? And what are the “optics” of the story? Because that’s what really matters, right?

Or so you might have thought if you had been reading or watching the news for the past few days. Journalists and pundits were all in a tizzy because when Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch crossed paths recently at an Arizona airport tarmac, Clinton jumped on Lynch’s plane to chat with her for a half hour, about such shocking topics as Clinton’s grandchildren and their mutual friend Janet Reno.

The ensuing controversy looks like a prime example of the “Clinton Rules,” under which the media treat even the most ludicrous allegations against Bill or Hillary Clinton as reasonable and worthy of extended examination, assuming all the while that their actions can be motivated only by the most sinister of intentions. And if the underlying substance of a story is indeed ludicrous—like the idea that Clinton hopped over to talk to Lynch because he wanted to urge her to put the kibosh on any possible indictment of his wife (in a semi-public setting with a bunch of other people standing around), and not because he’s Bill Clinton and he loves chatting with important people—then you can just fall back on judging the “optics” and noting sagely that the story “plays into a narrative.” Whatever you do, don’t mention that the “narrative” is one you yourself are in the process of creating and sustaining, and when you say that the “optics” are bad, what you’re really saying is, “It was a mistake because here I am on TV saying it was a mistake.”

Here’s a handy rule of thumb: The more people you see in the media talking about “narratives” and “optics,” the less substantively meaningful the controversy they’re talking about actually is. So: Is there a reason to condemn Clinton or Lynch for their tarmac chitchat that doesn’t rely on the idea that one or the other should have known how it would look? The closest thing you can argue is that if there’s an active FBI investigation of a matter that involves the wife of a former president, that former president should have no contact, private or public, with the attorney general. Even if that’s an informal rule more intended to safeguard against the appearance of impropriety than actual impropriety, it’s still a perfectly good idea. On the other hand, the fact that their talk took place with other people around makes any kind of undue influence vanishingly unlikely; you’d have far more reason to be concerned about something like a private phone call.

Here’s what was going to happen if Clinton and Lynch had never spoken: The FBI would complete its investigation, the career prosecutors at the Justice Department would or wouldn’t recommend an indictment, and Lynch, as the department’s chief, would or wouldn’t accept that recommendation. I doubt any serious person thinks the outcome of that process would be affected by the conversation Clinton and Lynch had. Yes, there are Republicans, including Donald Trump, who will say otherwise. But there are also lots of Republicans who think that the Clintons killed Vince Foster and that Barack Obama was born in Kenya; that doesn’t mean you have to treat those ideas as anything other than the lunacy they are. But in the end, Lynch recused herself from the final decision on an indictment anyway. Why? Optics, of course.

Although this kind of thing happens with particular frequency to Bill and Hillary Clinton, that isn’t to say that that faux controversies don’t get whipped up about Republicans, too. For instance, over the weekend, Donald Trump retweeted an image of Hillary Clinton superimposed over a pile of money, with the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” contained within a Star of David. Anthony Smith of tracked down the source of the image: a particularly rancid online forum of racists and white supremacists. I won’t link to it, but when I visited the forum Sunday afternoon, the top post was a story about Elie Wiesel under the headline, “DING DONG THE KIKE IS DEAD,” followed by lengthy discussions on the criminality of non-white people, the dangers of race-mixing, and the superiority of the white race. And it isn’t like this was an isolated incident. As David Weigel of The Washington Post noted, “For at least the fifth time, Trump’s Twitter account had shared a meme from the racist ‘alt-right’ and offered no explanation why.”

When the tweet started getting attention, the Trump campaign deleted it and replaced it with an altered image, this time with the Star of David replaced with a circle. My guess is that Trump got the image from one of his followers and retweeted it without giving it much thought. So is it a big deal, one worthy of multiple days of coverage? In and of itself, no. It doesn’t prove anything new about Trump. But it’s another demonstration of something that is troubling: Trump’s words and policy goals have garnered enthusiastic support from racists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis.

Jews are pretty far down on the list of groups Donald Trump is trying to get voters to hate and fear, so to be honest, I’m not much more concerned about his tweet than I am about Bill Clinton telling Loretta Lynch how cute his grandkids are. In both cases, the last question we should care about is what the optics or the narrative are. Either Hillary Clinton did or didn’t do something wrong by using private email while at the State Department (she did), and either it will or won’t be determined to be a crime (it almost certainly won’t). In Trump’s case, it isn’t whether voters will react negatively to his extended game of Twitter footsie with white supremacists (much as one hopes they would). There’s something real and meaningful underneath the tweets: the fact that Trump is running the most nakedly racist presidential campaign, in both rhetoric and substance, since George Wallace in 1968, or maybe Strom Thurmond in 1948.

I have no idea what lies within Trump’s heart, and there’s no way to know for sure. But when members of the KKK are endorsing you, neo-Nazis are praising you, and every steroid-addled racist frat boy rage-monster is totally pumped about your campaign, there’s something much more important than the details of your retweeting habits at work. There’s no reason journalists should have any shortage of questions about that to discuss.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, July 3, 2016

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Bill and Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Journalists, Loretta Lynch | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Meaning Of Trump’s Cult Of Political Incorrectness”: Any Sensitivity To Others’ Feelings Is Considered Weakness

It’s difficult to believe Donald Trump is anti-Semitic. For one thing, his adored daughter Ivanka is a convert to Judaism, out of solidarity with her Jewish husband. For another, as a New York–based business tycoon, Trump has interacted frequently and cordially with Jewish colleagues, employees, investors, politicians, and members of the news media throughout his career.

That’s all the more reason to puzzle over the weaselly reaction of Trump and his campaign to allegations one of his Twitter blasts at Hillary Clinton borrowed anti-Semitic imagery from one of Trump’s anti-Semitic supporters. Trump has gone to great lengths to claim that the image in question isn’t what it is, and has in general done everything other than the obvious: apologize for screwing up and forcefully disassociate himself with his alt-right fan club.

In a thorough examination of the incident, Matt Yglesias hit on an important insight about Trump that goes beyond anti-Semitism:

Trump has not acted to distance himself in any way from the anti-Semitic behavior of his followers. There’s been nothing remotely in the vicinity of Barack Obama’s famous race speech from the 2008 campaign, and Trump has consistently appeared angrier about being criticized for ties to anti-Semites than about the anti-Semitism expressed by many of his fans.

Some might associate this reluctance to admit error, apologize, and then move on to Trump’s narcissism — those who endlessly admire themselves in every mirror are not prone to see or admit flaws.

But there’s something else going on that makes Trump’s supporters share the same reluctance to say they are sorry. He’s developed a cult of “political incorrectness” in which any sensitivity to others’ feelings is considered weakness, and the impulse to apologize for offensive remarks or behavior is dismissed as a surrender to bullying by elites and their minority-group clientele.

In his long, sympathetic meditation on Trump’s supporters for the New Yorker, George Saunders noticed this same phenomenon:

Above all, Trump supporters are “not politically correct,” which, as far as I can tell, means that they have a particular aversion to that psychological moment when, having thought something, you decide that it is not a good thought, and might pointlessly hurt someone’s feelings, and therefore decline to say it.

In other words, there’s a tendency in Trumpland to view what most of us consider common decency as “political correctness,” which is to be avoided at all costs, most especially when the opprobrium of liberal elitists is involved.  It’s no accident, then, that Trump sometimes seems to court the appearance of impropriety, and defend examples of rudeness, crudeness, and bigotry even when he’s not personally guilty of perpetrating them.

Trump did not invent this strange mindset, of course. Right-wing talk-radio types have made a living from baiting liberals and women and minorities and then inciting listeners to express umbrage at the resulting outrage. Trump’s former rival and current supporter Dr. Ben Carson could not go five minutes on the presidential campaign trail without attacking “political correctness” as the source of all evil and as a secular-socialist stratagem for silencing the Folks by shaming them.

For the generally decent Carson, “political correctness” remained something of an abstraction. It’s taken Trump to paint it in garish realism. To use a phrase beloved of Trump’s great predecessor in political sin George Wallace, the mogul does not “pussyfoot around” in offending his detractors and those people — the pushy feminists and entitled minorities whose very presence profanes America in the eyes of many Trump supporters. Trump tells it like it is, which means he is not inhibited by a civility that masks nasty but essential truths.

Inevitably, this nasty but essential explanation of Trump’s appeal will annoy supporters and enemies alike, who insist on ascribing purely economic motives to those who have lifted him so shockingly high in American political life. Sorry, but I don’t think uncontrollable rage at having to “press 1 for English” or say “Happy Holidays” can be explained by displaced anger over wage stagnation or the decline of the American manufacturing sector. As Saunders said in another of his insights into Trump supporters:

[T]he Trump supporter might be best understood as a guy who wakes up one day in a lively, crowded house full of people, from a dream in which he was the only one living there, and then mistakes the dream for the past: a better time, manageable and orderly, during which privilege and respect came to him naturally, and he had the whole place to himself.

Such a guy may well be old enough to remember a time when he and people just like him could behave as though they had America to themselves. Nowadays that gets you hostile looks, a rebuke from HR, a shaming from moral authorities, and sometimes worse. But Donald Trump will fight for your right to offend in your own damn country. And some offenders will love him for it.


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 5, 2016

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Donald Trump, Political Correctness | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Already Waist-Deep In Stench”: The Most Corrupt Candidate Ever Is Donald Trump

Before his message was overshadowed by a scandal about his use of a white-supremacist image — a mistake that could happen to any candidate, really, so long as that candidate had inspired a massive following among neo-Nazis — Donald Trump was trying to make a point about Hillary Clinton’s corruption. She is the “most corrupt candidate ever,” he claims. Corruption is indeed a plausible line of attack against Clinton — or, at least, it would be, if the opposing candidate was anybody other than Donald Trump, who may actually be the most corrupt presidential candidate ever.

It should be conceded that the evidence against Clinton is fairly damning. After Bill Clinton left the presidency, the former First Couple intermingled career and personal interests in ways that, at minimum, exposed them to a high risk of contamination. The Clinton Foundation was not only a charitable endeavor but a vehicle for Bill Clinton to enjoy the comforts and exercise the quasi-official power of an active figure on the world stage. Donors to the foundation included many of the same businesses and individuals who paid the Clintons for private speeches, and who had an interest in cultivating close ties with a secretary of State and potential future president. Some of those figures had business interests that aligned with Russian strategic goals rather than American ones. The Clintons failed to promptly disclose all of their foundation donors and, on at least one occasion, appointed an apparently unqualified donor to a State Department board.

The evidence of Clinton corruption is circumstantial rather than direct. If they wanted to stay above reproach, they could have rigorously disclosed every dollar that passed through their personal and professional accounts, and made it plain that neither donating to their foundation nor hiring them for speeches would purchase any special treatment whatsoever — indeed, they bent over backward to demonstrate that they could not be bought. Instead, they profited from the ambiguity.

The case against Hillary Clinton is that her administration might be corrupted around the margins — in its minor appointments or pardons and in the relative ease in which some donors get their calls returned — but that the basic contours of her administration would be a continuation of the non-corrupt center-left program of the Obama administration. The case against Trump is qualitatively different. Trump is flamboyantly corrupt in ways that run to the very core of his identity and prospective governing choices.

This is all the more remarkable given that Trump’s complete lack of experience in public office ought to provide him with the opportunity, which most novice candidates have, for a clean-slate résumé. Instead, he is already waist-deep in stench. Trump has not merely intermingled campaigning with his business interests; the two are one and the same. His entire political career seems to be an outgrowth of his efforts to build his personal brand, which Trump has endlessly used the campaign as a platform to promote. He has devoted speeches to attacking the judge in the fraud suit against his “university,” instructed surrogates to do the same, and promised to relaunch the enterprise if elected. He celebrated the Brexit vote, which drove down the value of the pound, as helpful for driving visitors to his Scottish golf course. This sort of behavior is not an appearance of a conflict of interest but the definition of one.

Trump appears to be genuinely unaware, even at the conceptual level, that his business interests might complicate his ability to govern in the public interest. During the primary, when a debate moderator asked if he would put his holdings in a blind trust, Trump comically replied that he would, while defining a “blind trust” to mean his children would run his business for him, which is the opposite of a blind trust. Even if Trump wanted to distance himself from his business interests, the nature of his holdings would make it virtually impossible, as The Wall Street Journal explains today. A traditionally rich person could place their wealth in third-party hands without knowing what they were invested in; Trump’s business is his personal brand, making divestment impossible. “Trump’s empire would pose unprecedented conflicts of interest due to the size of its holdings, privately held nature of the family-run business, and concentration in one industry,” Richard Painter, the Bush administration’s ethics lawyer, tells the Journal.

Trump’s entire business career reeks, beginning with his early associations with organized crime and proceeding through a career of swindling. “No other candidate for the White House this year has anything close to Trump’s record of repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks,” reports David Cay Johnston. Trump is not merely comfortable doing business with criminals and thugs — his habits of manipulating bankruptcy laws and swindling his partners have left him reliant upon, let us say, unconventional sources of investment, many of whom are the scum of the Earth. Franklin Foer lays out impressive circumstantial evidence that Trump may well be a puppet of Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump shares a web of financial ties that help explain their shared worldview. Whatever we might think of Clinton, we can be confident she is not controlled by the Kremlin. And the failures of disclosure or record-keeping in her operations pale beside Trump’s defiant refusal to disclose his tax returns.

It is altogether fair to condemn Clinton as a corrupt practitioner of the Washington cash-for-access culture. She and her husband are careless, susceptible to greed — normal politicians, in other words. Trump is the figure whose corruption stands out on a historic scale, and the notion that disdain for corruption would supply a rationale to elect him is nothing short of bizarre.


By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 5, 2016

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Organized Crime | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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