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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

“Revelations Are Absolutely Devastating”: ‘Deadbeat Donald’ Caught Refusing To Pay His Bills

The front page of USA Today’s print edition features an all-caps, above-the-fold headline that Republicans probably didn’t want to see: “Trump’s Trail Of Unpaid Bills.” And while the headline is rough, the article hits like a sledgehammer.

During the Atlantic City casino boom in the 1980s, Philadelphia cabinet-builder Edward Friel Jr. landed a $400,000 contract to build the bases for slot machines, registration desks, bars and other cabinets at Harrah’s at Trump Plaza.

The family cabinetry business, founded in the 1940s by Edward’s father, finished its work in 1984 and submitted its final bill to the general contractor for the Trump Organization, the resort’s builder.

Edward’s son, Paul, who was the firm’s accountant, still remembers the amount of that bill more than 30 years later: $83,600. The reason: the money never came. “That began the demise of the Edward J. Friel Company… which has been around since my grandfather,” he said.

USA Today recently broke some news, noting that Trump and his business enterprises have been involved in “at least 3,500 legal actions in federal and state courts during the past three decades.” But this new report goes one step further, noting much of the litigation involves ordinary Americans – mechanics, plumbers, painters, waiters, dishwashers, etc. – who sent Trump bills for completed work, and the New York Republican simply refused to pay.

The new report added, “The actions in total paint a portrait of Trump’s sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. In some cases, the Trump teams financially overpower and outlast much smaller opponents, draining their resources. Some just give up the fight, or settle for less; some have ended up in bankruptcy or out of business altogether.”

Adding insult to injury, the Wall Street Journal published a related report overnight, documenting the same problem. In some instances, Trump-owned businesses felt they had leverage over small businesses, so when bills came, Trump’s enterprise would offer part of what was owed – take it or leave it – knowing that the small businesses couldn’t afford to get tied up in a lengthy court fight.

This really is brutal. It’s hard to say whether this news will be overshadowed by the institutional Democratic support Hillary Clinton has picked up over the last day or so, but by some measures, these Trump revelations are absolutely devastating.

Keep in mind, Trump has picked up voter support over the last year in part by touting his private-sector successes. These new reports suggest his business background may actually be the most controversial aspect of Trump’s life.

It’s easy to see the ads: Deadbeat Donald claims to be a successful billionaire, but he doesn’t pay his bills and has repeatedly stiffed small-business owners. How in the world will he respond?

Postscript: Keep in mind, at one point last year Donald Trump had 16 rivals for the Republican nomination, not one of whom did any real opposition research on him. Any of the GOP campaigns could’ve tracked down this information and put it to use during the primaries, but they just didn’t have their act together.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 10, 2016

June 18, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Republicans, Small Businesses | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Suckers For Trump Need To Believe”: The Psychology Of Chumps And How They Get Taken

Here is how Donald Trump suckers the little people. What follows is a telling of his methods, not commentary on his lack of scruples.

The Question: Why didn’t the trail of wreckage left by Trump’s failed businesses deter students from forking over as much as $35,000 for a class at Trump University? The Answer: They wanted to believe in a plot that favored them.

The skilled con artist knows how to identify chumps and work their emotions. As Trump U salespeople were instructed to tell prospective students, “let them know that you’ve found an answer to their problems.”

Trump’s been at this a long time. In 1995, he raised $140 million from ordinary stock investors for Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts. Why would people put good money in a company built on two casinos that had already gone bankrupt under Trump management?

Because Trump had convinced them that he had become a rich man — not by inheriting his father’s real estate empire but through his celebrity magic. Note that the company’s stock ticker symbol was DJT, Trump’s initials.

Trump controlled a third bankrupted casino hotel, which he later persuaded the company to buy at a grossly inflated price. The bankers finally took over in 2004, sending Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts into a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

When Trump was done working his “magic,” the stock had lost 90 percent of its value. For every $10 that the believers had invested at the initial public offering, they had $1 left.

A turndown in the casino business could take blame for some of Trump’s other casino problems, but not in this case. During this period, the stock of Harrah’s Entertainment more than doubled. Shares of Starwood and MGM quadrupled.

Trump’s explanation for the diving stock price? “People don’t understand this company.”

Maria Konnikova has studied the psychology of chumps and how they get taken. The skilled con men, she writes, “are exceptional creators of drama.” They spin a story “that makes everything seem legitimate, even inevitable.”

It’s a very human desire to believe the good we’re told will come our way, and it’s not limited to the uneducated. Konnikova tells of a University of North Carolina physicist who fell for an online dating swindle that led to his smuggling cocaine from South America. Elsewhere, the president of a famous New York art gallery was conned into selling forged paintings, including one with the artist’s signature misspelled.

The two patsies conceded the psychological tricks played on them. Konnikova explains, “Faced with incongruous evidence, you dismiss the evidence rather than the story.” Actually, you don’t even see the evidence.

Over at Trump University, economically struggling students ate up the story that Trump himself would be instrumental in blessing them with his secrets to real-estate wealth. They so believed a video promising to teach them “better than the best business school” that they maxed out their credit cards to pay tuition. For those lacking an adequate line of credit, salespeople urged taking on more credit cards. And they did.

Trump University is now defunct and about to go on trial amid charges it defrauded students by $40 million. Trump smeared the judge in the case for his Mexican heritage.

Business reporters trying to get at the truth of Trump’s wealth already assume it is a fraction of what Trump claims. A wish to keep that amount under wraps may account for his refusal to release tax returns.

Evidence of Trump’s confidence games keeps growing, but the pile was already high before he ran for president. Thing is, evidence doesn’t matter to the saps he plays with. It’s always the story.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, June 2, 2016

June 2, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fraud, Trump University | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Dramatizing The Truth About Trump”: Trump University Is A Devastating Metaphor For The Trump Campaign

When Donald Trump became the heavy favorite to win the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, news leaked out of Clinton world that the campaign against him would resemble the 2012 campaign Democrats ran against Mitt Romney. “The emerging approach to defining Trump is an updated iteration of the ‘Bain Strategy’—the Obama 2012 campaign’s devastating attacks on Mitt Romney’s dealings with investment firm Bain Capital,” Democratic operative and campaign aides told Politico. “This time, Democrats would highlight the impact of Trump’s four business bankruptcies—and his opposition to wage hikes at his casinos and residential properties—on the families of his workers.”

That idea was puzzling to some liberals because, for all the superficial similarities between Trump and Romney, they represent very different kinds of oligarchs: Trump, a tribune of the working class, versus Romney, a champion of capitalism and big business. Trump’s everyman-billionaire political identity, taken at face value, is much harder to weaponize than Romney’s was. The fear was that if Democrats set about reprising the 2012 campaign against a self-styled populist, it would fail or backfire. Trump, after all, acknowledges his personal avarice— “I‘ve been greedy, greedy, greedy.” His promise now is to turn that greed outward on behalf of us.

Fortunately, the steady pace of disclosures from the civil case against Trump University—including testimony from Trump employees who say his business-education program scammed the vulnerable out of tens of thousands of dollars a head—provides Democrats a way to repurpose the Romney strategy against a very different kind of foe. The Trump University scam undermines the very notion that a man of Trump’s greed can ever be trusted to advance the interests of others. If exploited properly, it will be Trump’s undoing.

The Democrats can capitalize on lessons they learned from 2012. Early in that campaign, they ran up against a problem they hadn’t planned for. When they pressed voters in focus groups for their views on Romney’s economic platform, it didn’t rate as negatively as they expected, because voters literally couldn’t believe the premise of the questions: Why would anyone who wanted to be president propose privatizing Medicare and giving rich people enormous tax cuts? For a scary number of voters, it just didn’t compute.

Trump University will dramatize the truth about Trump for those voters in the same way Bain Capital dramatized Romney’s stone-heartedness.

The sustained attack on Romney’s private equity career and his capital worship—the ads featuring people whose lives were ruined by the “creative destruction” Bain Capital rained down on their places of employment, and quoting Romney telling a voter, “Corporations are people, my friend”—allowed Democrats to dramatize the story they were trying to tell about Romney’s political agenda.

“[O]nce people have learned that Romney was willing to fire workers and terminate health and pension benefits while taking tens of millions out of companies,” a prominent Democratic pollster told The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent four years ago, “they are much more ready to understand that Romney would indeed cut Social Security and Medicare to give tax breaks to rich people like himself.” If the Republican nominee is a heartless capitalist who cares naught for working people, then perhaps he really does want to serve the rich in office.

Trump University will serve the same purpose for a campaign aimed at exposing a phony populist for what he is:

Trump U is devastating because it’s metaphor for his whole campaign: promising hardworking Americans way to get ahead, but all based on lies

— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) June 1, 2016

Fallon is the Hillary Clinton campaign’s secretary, so consider the source, obviously, but his argument holds up to the 2012 test case exquisitely.

Democrats won’t want to attack populism per se, and will have a hard time convincing certain voters to take them at their word that Trump’s promises are fraudulent. He’s incredibly successful, after all! But Trump University will dramatize the truth about Trump for those voters in the same way Bain Capital dramatized Romney’s stone-heartedness. Trump says that he—and only he—has all the answers for the ailing middle class. That he will ply his business acumen on behalf of the everyman and turn his good fortune into theirs. All they have to do to secure his beneficence is fork over their votes. But it’s all a scam. All lies. And when his victims and former employees testify to this for the country, it will be devastating.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, June 1, 2016

June 2, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Trump University | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Money Grab”: It Gets Worse For David Perdue

Speaking of politically damaging material the New York Times is looking into, Jonathan Weisman today notes the bankruptcy deposition that revealed Georgia GOP Senate candidate David Perdue’s bland revelations of a long career in outsourcing contains some other interesting stuff:

A bankruptcy court document that surfaced last week has roiled the Georgia race for retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss’s seat and put the Republican David Perdue on the defensive over his record as a business executive and his role sending jobs to low-wage countries.

Though most of the attention — and the attacks from his opponent, Michelle Nunn — have focused on comments he made about outsourcing, a close reading of the 186-page deposition, first disclosed last week by Politico, paints Mr. Perdue as a hard-charging hired gun who was so aggressive in claiming his compensation perks from his failing textile company that other executives accused him of a “money grab,” a characterization he hotly denied.

In page after page, Mr. Perdue, who had come from a lucrative post at Reebok, expresses more concern with his own financial security than with the tanking business and the 7,600 jobs that were going down with it….

As his company was heading toward bankruptcy, Mr. Perdue pressed the board for a $700,000 payout to cover taxes he owed on a signing bonus and $100,000 for a relocation he never actually took. He received both, as well as a $500,000 stipend to stay on during final, failed takeover negotiations that could have rescued Pillowtex. He announced his resignation that spring, effective after a two-week paid vacation.

Sounds like we’re about one juicy quote away from the text of another Michelle Nunn or Super-PAC ad. And given Perdue’s penchant for gaffes, he might well just serve it up in the present tense.

The lessen here is that if you’re going to run one of those CEO/outsider campaigns, you should probably have a business career that doesn’t sound as damaging to regular folks–or as self-serving–as a political career.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 10, 2014

October 11, 2014 Posted by | David Perdue, Georgia, Senate | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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