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“Yet Another Fraudulent Operation”: Move Over, ‘Trump U,’ The New Scandal Is The ‘Trump Institute’

The scandal surrounding “Trump University” is already an albatross for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The entire enterprise has been accused of being a con job, ripping off “students” who trusted the developer’s name.

But as it turns out, there’s a new, related controversy surrounding the “Trump Institute,” which is something else. The New York Times reports today that the Republican candidate “lent his name, and his credibility” to this seminar business, which offered Trump’s “wealth-creating secrets and strategies” for up to $2,000.

The truth was something else altogether.

As with Trump University, the Trump Institute promised falsely that its teachers would be handpicked by Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump did little, interviews show, besides appear in an infomercial – one that promised customers access to his vast accumulated knowledge. “I put all of my concepts that have worked so well for me, new and old, into our seminar,” he said in the 2005 video, adding, “I’m teaching what I’ve learned.”

Reality fell far short. In fact, the institute was run by a couple who had run afoul of regulators in dozens of states and been dogged by accusations of deceptive business practices and fraud for decades. Similar complaints soon emerged about the Trump Institute.

Yet there was an even more fundamental deceit to the business, unreported until now: Extensive portions of the materials that students received after forking over their seminar fees, supposedly containing Mr. Trump’s special wisdom, had been plagiarized from an obscure real estate manual published a decade earlier.

All things considered, when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) referred to Trump as a “con man,” the senator may have been on to to something.

Consider the revelations from recent weeks:

* Those who ran “Trump University” have faced credible allegations of stuffing their own pockets by preying on the vulnerable, selling unsuspecting students snake oil at indefensible prices and through misleading claims.

* Trump has boasted at great length about the millions of dollars he’s given away through charitable donations – though many of these donations don’t appear to exist and many of the promises he made publicly went unfulfilled.

* A considerable chunk of Trump’s campaign fundraising went to Trump corporate products and services, giving rise to a new word for the political lexicon: “scampaign.”

* And now the “Trump Institute” is facing allegations of being yet another fraudulent operation, complete with bogus claims, shady characters, and “the theft of intellectual property at the venture’s heart.”

The Timesreport added:

The institute was another example of the Trump brand’s being accused of luring vulnerable customers with false promises of profit and success. Others, besides Trump University, include multilevel marketing ventures that sold vitamins and telecommunications services, and a vanity publisher that faced hundreds of consumer complaints.

Mr. Trump’s infomercial performance suggested he was closely overseeing the Trump Institute. “People are loving it,” he said in the program, titled “The Donald Trump Way to Wealth” and staged like a talk show in front of a wildly enthusiastic audience. “People are really doing well with it, and they’re loving it.” His name, picture and aphorisms like “I am the American Dream, supersized version” were all over the course materials.

Yet while he owned 93 percent of Trump University, the Trump Institute was owned and operated by Irene and Mike Milin, a couple who had been marketing get-rich-quick courses since the 1980s.

I realize, of course, that there are many voters who trust Donald J. Trump’s word. I’m less clear on why.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 29, 2016

June 30, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fraud, Trump Institute | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“On Tax Deductions, Sanders Is No Hypocrite”: Conservatives Confused About How Hypocrisy Works On A Conceptual Level

When Bernie Sanders said his tax returns would turn out to be pretty boring, he wasn’t kidding. After a bit of a delay, the senator’s campaign released his 2014 returns last Friday night, and as expected, there wasn’t much in there of interest.

At least, that’s what I thought. National Review published a piece this week making hay of the senator’s deductions.

Sanders released his 2014 tax return this weekend, revealing that he and his wife took $60,208 in deductions from their taxable income. These deductions are all perfectly legal and permitted under the U.S. tax code, but they present a morally inconvenient, if delicious, irony: The Democratic socialist from Vermont, a man who rages against high earners paying a lower effective tax rate than blue-collar workers, saved himself thousands using many of the tricks that would be banned under his own tax plan. […]

What Sanders did, using every option and advantage available under a Byzantine tax code to minimize his tax payment, is a normal practice for many Americans. But it’s also exactly what the targets of his anger do. You can argue about whether or not that’s greed, but it’s impossible to argue that it isn’t hypocrisy. The paragon of liberal purity is not as pure as he’d like the world to believe.

Actually, it’s quite possible to argue that this isn’t hypocrisy, because, well, that’s not what hypocrisy means.

Current tax laws allow Americans to take a variety of deductions, and Sanders followed the laws as they’re written. Does Sanders hope to change the laws related to deductions? He absolutely does, even if that means he and his family have to pay more. But those changes haven’t yet happened, so the senator continues to do what he’s permitted to do.

As Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum put it, “If you don’t like the designated hitter rule in baseball, does that mean you should send your pitcher to the plate just to prove how sincere you are? Of course not. You play by the rules, whatever those rules are.”

All of which leads me to an ongoing point of concern. When I argue that many conservatives don’t seem to understand what hypocrisy means, I’m not being coy or snarky. I mean it quite literally: some on the right throw around accusations about various figures on the left being hypocrites in a way that suggests they’re genuinely confused about how hypocrisy works on a conceptual level.

A few years ago, for example, President Obama attended a fundraiser with some wealthy donors. The Republican National Committee insisted it was “the definition of hypocrisy” for the president to “run against” the wealthy while seeking campaign contributions from wealthy contributors.

The trouble, of course, is that this wasn’t even close to the “the definition of hypocrisy.” Having a policy agenda that asks more from the very wealthy does not preclude seeking contributions from those who also support that agenda, including accepting donations from the very wealthy.

Last year, Hillary Clinton was accused of being “hypocritical” for criticizing the existing campaign-finance system, even while raising money within that system. But again, that’s not what “hypocrisy” means – there is no contradiction when a candidate plays by the rules while hoping to someday change those rules.

Circling back to an old post, hypocrisy in politics is not uncommon, and it’s worth calling out once it’s uncovered. But can we try to separate legitimate instances of hypocrisy and stuff that looks kind of funny if you don’t give it a lot of thought? They are two very different things.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, April 20, 2016

April 21, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Conservatives, Hillary Clinton, Tax Code | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“He’d Do Well To Stay There”: Bernie Sanders Should Stick To The High Road

Bernie Sanders started his campaign stumping for his ideals without savaging the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. That was an attractive combination.

Now that he’s done a lot better than anticipated (though way down in delegates), his people are wondering whether he has made a mistake by not lunging for Clinton’s throat.

The answer is no. He’d be even further down, because virtuous politicking has been the source of his charm.

Sanders has never been much of a team player. He is an independent, not a Democrat, but Team Democrat has respected his candidacy. And it has given him a platform he’d never have gotten on his own.

But the welcome mat shows holes. The impressive sums Sanders raises go to his campaign only. Clinton raises money for her campaign and for other Democrats down the ticket. Adding to an unpleasantness, the Sanders camp lashes out at Clinton’s fundraising as somehow sordid.

Exactly how are you going to get your liberal priorities passed without a friendlier House and Senate?

Not Sanders’ problem. Never has been. And that accounts for his modest accomplishments in Washington.

The Sanders campaign prides itself in speaking “the truth,” so here’s some:

Sanders did not fight alone for single-payer health care. He failed to attract a single co-sponsor for his recent single-payer bill, his fans explain, because the health care industry intimidated lesser liberals in the Senate.

But John Conyers proposed single-payer in the House and gathered more than 90 co-sponsors. (Conyers endorsed Clinton in the Michigan primary.)

Sanders recently accused Clinton of taking “significant money from the fossil fuel industry” — a claim for which The Washington Post awarded him three “Pinocchios.”

Oil and gas doesn’t even make the list of the top 20 industries contributing to the Clinton campaign. Fossil fuel money accounts for only 0.15 percent of her campaign and outside PAC sum. But Sanders gooses the numbers by dishonestly labeling donations from lobbyists who also work for other industries as fossil fuel money.

Sanders portrays himself as a one-man army fighting Wall Street abuses in the Senate. Actually, the one-man army has been one woman, named Elizabeth Warren.

Before joining the Senate, Warren championed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — detested by predatory lenders for shielding the little guys. Clinton was among the bureau’s most enthusiastic boosters and pushed other Democrats to sign on.

Sanders would have certainly won the financial industry’s enmity if it took him seriously. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page virtually ignores him, turning its wrath on the far more dangerous Warren.

Now, Clinton’s $225,000-per-speech fees from Goldman Sachs are fair game for the political opposition. But then the opposition has to show what Wall Street got in return other than her insights and her company.

A quid pro quo is hard to pin down. For example, the head of the D.E. Shaw group has given more than $800,000 to the Clinton effort. His company holds much distressed Puerto Rican debt and opposes letting the island file for bankruptcy. Clinton is for it.

Do note that the financial services industry is among New York state’s largest employers and is No. 1 for payroll. Clinton represented the state, and senators do confer with large hometown employers.

Speaking of which, Sanders waves his fist against wasteful military spending but voted to fund the $1.2 trillion F-35 fighter — one of the most expensive, most cost-overrun and most plagued weapons systems in U.S. history. Seems the maker, Lockheed Martin, employs a bunch of Vermonters.

Sanders looks best when he conducts politics from the high road. He’d do well to stay there for the sake of his legacy.


By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, April 5, 2016

April 6, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Stinking Open Sewer”: Unhappy Anniversary: How Anthony Kennedy Flooded Democracy With ‘Sewer Money’

On today’s anniversary of the Citizens United decision, which exposed American democracy to increasing domination by the country’s very richest and most reactionary figures – the modern heirs to those “malefactors of great wealth” condemned by the great Republican Theodore Roosevelt – it is worth recalling the false promise made by the justice who wrote the majority opinion in that case.

Justice Anthony Kennedy masterminded the Supreme Court’s January 21, 2010 decision to undo a century of public-interest regulation of campaign expenditures in the name of “free speech.” He had every reason to know how damaging to democratic values and public integrity that decision would prove to be.

Once billed as a “moderate conservative,” Kennedy is a libertarian former corporate lobbyist from Sacramento, who toiled in his father’s scandal-ridden lobbying law firm, “influencing” California legislators, before he ascended to the bench with the help of his friend Ronald Reagan.

While guiding Citizens United through the court on behalf of the Republican Party’s billionaire overseers, it was Kennedy who came up with a decorative fig leaf of justification:

With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.

 As Jane Mayer’s superb new book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right reveals in excruciating but fascinating detail, Kennedy’s assertion about the Internet insuring disclosure and accountability was nothing but a little heap of happy horse-shit. “Independent” expenditures from super-rich right-wing donors have overwhelmed the opponents of their chosen candidates, promoting a durable Republican takeover of Congress — often through the deployment of false advertising and false-flag organizations.

Late last year, Kennedy confessed that his vaunted “transparency” is “not working the way it should,” a feeble excuse since he had every reason to know from the beginning that his professed expectation of “prompt disclosure” of all political donations was absurdly unrealistic.

The Citizens United debacle led directly to the Republican takeover of the Senate as well as the House. Last week, the Brennan Center for Justice released a new study showing that “dark money” – that is, donations whose origin remains secret from news organizations and voters – has more than doubled in Senate races during the past six years, from $105 million to $226 million in 2014.

During the past three election cycles, outside groups spent about $1 billion total on Senate races, of which $485 million came from undisclosed sources. In the 11 most competitive Senate races in 2014, almost 60 percent of the spending by “independent” groups came from those murky places, and the winners of those races benefited from $171 million of such spending.

In elections gone by, when anonymous smear leaflets would appear in local races — funded by nobody knew whom — political operatives would shake their heads and mutter about “sewer money.”

Today we can thank Anthony Kennedy, who was either poorly informed or willfully ignorant, for turning American democracy into a stinking open sewer.

What a legacy.


By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, January 21, 2016

January 21, 2016 Posted by | Anthony Kennedy, Citizens United, Democracy | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Dark Side Of Hillary Clinton’s New Inevitability”: We Live In The Age Of The Enemy-Of-My-Enemy Politics

For her birthday, Hillary Clinton got some conventional wisdom.

In the wake of a dominating debate performance and equally impressive turn at the Benghazi hearings, the usual Washington suspects have decided being inevitable isn’t so bad after all. She became “the heroine of a captivating political drama,” says Reuters. Her 11-hour testimony was, says Vox, “her best campaign ad yet.” Once again, quoth The Fix at The Washington Post, “Republicans saved Hillary.” The Guardian saw a “triumphant October” and “political observers’ doubts fade.” “The Most Likely Next President Is Hillary Clinton,” declared Mark Halperin at Bloomberg News.

Now, Halperin’s judgments on candidates’ political fortunes are fickle enough that there could be a Hallmark card designed for those on their receiving end. (It’s shelved next to the “So I heard Bill Kristol thinks you should run for president” line.) Just last March, based on Clinton’s lackluster response to the revelation that she used a private email server to conduct some State Department business, Halperin got his syntax in a bunch and huffed that he had revised a yet earlier opinion: “I now think that she’s not only not easily the most likely, I don’t think she’s anymore the most likely.”

I’m probably the last one who needs to remind Clinton that the favor of the Washington media isn’t so much a gift horse that requires a look in the mouth as a pile of what comes out the other end. More enduring support has come in the form of dollars; the campaign claims to have had its most successful single hour yet between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the night of her Benghazi testimony and added 100,000 new donors in October.

That is clearly more encouraging news than whatever fresh-baked takes are wafting across Twitter, but the mechanism behind the outpouring of support isn’t an unalloyed gift. We live in the age of enemy-of-my-enemy politics, and analysis that stops with seeing Clinton benefit from the Republicans’ attack on her misses the equal and opposite reaction on the right.

At the moment, that reaction is diffused into the clown car of chaos chugging across the primary landscape. There are more than a dozen campaigns all trying to lay claim to the mantle of Clinton-slayer, and at the moment they look less like an opponent than a tribe of minions trying to scrabble to the top of a living pyramid. Once votes and money coalesce around a candidate, it will be more difficult to count Clinton as the winner in any given contest.

But look, I don’t think your average swing voter cares about the controversies that obsess the right. Republicans have a historically and hysterically bad record at overestimating the degree to which mere annoyance with the Clintons’ foibles translates into active support for their agenda. What’s more, the GOP seems determined to nominate someone whose views aren’t just unpopular with the vast majority of Americans but actively repellent to many. (If the right wants to die on the hill of fake “religious liberty” causes, it’ll die alone). The Republican Party has made little progress on defusing the demographic time bomb that will soon make winning the white male vote an even more dubious distinction.

So I’m not worried so much about the Republican nominee winning come next November, but I am worried that the Democrats’ best hope for holding the White House for the next eight years performs best from a defensive posture. She needs the GOP as much as it needs her. It’s a stance of mutually assured fundraising, a recipe for continued gridlock and a million clever social media memes, but not much progress.

On some level, this winningest loser strategy mirrors the exact scenario Clinton’s anti-Bernie Sanders surrogates stoke: He’ll never get anything done, they argue, he’s too polarizing and extreme! In real life, Sanders is one of Congress’s most successful brokers—the “amendment king” of the House and the co-shepherd of the last bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, one of the Senate’s few bipartisan successes in recent years.

The somewhat sad truth is that Sanders is polarizing because of his positions, not because of who he is. Clinton’s provocativeness is, on the other hand, half intentional bluster and half protective coloring. As a woman, because she bears the burden of being first and among the few, her skill in turning these things into triumphs is an adaptation, an evolutionary advantage that ensures her survival—even as it draws into question her ability to build a legacy.

As it is, the higgledy-piggledy nature of the Republican debate field remains her best friend, even if what it takes to win isn’t the same as what’s required to govern. When the CNBC Gong Show ends Wednesday night, Washington’s wisest will no doubt find more proof of her ascendance. They should keep in mind that’s largely because the rest of the field has sunk so low.


By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, October 27, 2015

October 28, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Hillary Clinton, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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