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“Dear IRS: Orangutan Hairs Are Legit!”: Trump’s Unique Mane Has Become A Key Visual Emblem Of His Business Brand

Dear Commissioner,

As you know, our client is dying to share his tax returns with American voters before the upcoming presidential election. However, he has prudently chosen to wait until your agency has completed its unfair audit of his Form 1040 filings.

Mr. Trump is offended and outraged that your inspectors have questioned several business expenses that he listed under Part V of Schedule C. We will address each of these disputed issues forthwith:

1. “Miscellaneous Hair Harvesting Fees — $767,000.”

Mr. Trump’s unique mane has become a key visual emblem of his business brand. All costs associated with the maintenance and enhancement of his hair should be deductible.

The silky orange strands on Mr. Trump’s head come from the armpits of Pongo pygmaeus, an orangutan found only in the rain forests of Borneo. Authorities there are protective of these rare animals, and have imposed upon Mr. Trump a fee of $1,000 for each harvested hair.

Mr. Trump asserts that this is a legitimate business expense, and it should not be challenged by the IRS.

2. “Orangutan Pacification Program — $315,400.”

Borneo’s orangutans are mostly peaceful creatures, but when provoked they are capable of attacking human intruders. Therefore, removing armpit hairs from an adult specimen can be both challenging and dangerous.

When Mr. Trump heard that orangutans can be soothed by classical music, he immediately arranged to fly a string quartet from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to the jungle of Borneo.

There the musicians performed Schubert’s famous String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, also known as “Death and the Maiden,” which soon caused the orangutans to fall into a deep sleep. During that time, extraction experts hired by Mr. Trump successfully removed approximately 767 hairs from several adult male and female orangutans.

The high cost of this project was borne entirely by Mr. Trump. He used his personal aircraft to transport the string quartet to Indonesia and paid full union-scale wages for the musicians’ performance. He also reimbursed them for their malaria shots.

Because no other species of wild primate produces the unusual gossamer hair compatible with Mr. Trump’s image, we contend that the Borneo trip was a legitimate and necessary business expense under the current tax rules.

3. “Replace Damaged Viola (and bow) — $6,223.”

Through no fault of Mr. Trump, one of the juvenile orangutans awakened near the end of the quartet’s performance and went after the viola player. The man escaped unharmed, but his expensive instrument was seized from him and reduced to splinters by the testy young ape.

Mr. Trump considers this loss to be a deductible expense, no different from replacing a tire that blows out on one of his jets.

4. “Solarium Upgrade at Trump Tower — $178,655.”

Because Borneo’s equatorial climate is much warmer and humid than that of midtown Manhattan, Mr. Trump hired a contractor to enlarge and upgrade the solarium and tanning salon in his penthouse.

Without such improvements, which include an orchid-scented humidifier, the orangutan hairs obtained and curated by Mr. Trump would eventually lose their texture, sheen and special ginger hue.

In time, the strands would become brittle and break free from the thermoplastic micro-staples attaching them to Mr. Trump’s scalp. Clearly, the solarium modifications are essential for Mr. Trump to maintain his current appearance, and the growth of his brand.

5. “Personal Grooming Assistance — $322,399.”

As one of the most photographed figures in the world, Mr. Trump is puzzled by your agency’s failure to understand his need for a staff to assist with his daily grooming.

Many movie stars and TV celebrities less important than Mr. Trump employ teams of such assistants. They might not be paid as highly as Mr. Trump’s, but we would argue that the fees paid to his stylists are reasonable considering the challenges they face.

Mr. Trump can’t just walk into a Supercuts for a quick trim. It requires specialized skills to painstakingly comb, layer and shape 767 delicate hairs — and to keep them flawlessly in place for scores of TV interviews and town-hall gatherings. The stylists who work on Mr. Trump earn every penny he pays them, and the IRS has no cause to disallow these expenses on his tax returns.

He is looking forward to a timely completion of your audit, and would hugely appreciate it if you didn’t leak the part about the Borneo trip to any reporters.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, May 17, 2016

May 18, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Internal Revenue Service, Tax Returns | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Multigenerational Wealth Is Best Hidden”: What Doesn’t Donald Trump Want You To Know About His Wealth?

This is what Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns says about America. We are a nation that can’t think straight about wealth and class. And Trump knows better than to puncture our delusions.

The American psyche is hyper-attuned to the trinkets of the wealthy: the right car, the right brand of clothes, the right vacation spots. We flatter ourselves with our circumscribed access to these status goods — or perhaps we only dream of that access — but we fail to understand that they do not equate to real wealth.

The very rich are different from you and me. They have something we never will: the power of money. Their money is the kind that doesn’t go away with a divorce, an extended sickness, a dip in the markets or even the death of a high income earner. Theirs is the kind that owns politicians and the laws they make.

Real wealth, the multigenerational kind, is best hidden. And even though a tax return won’t reveal all there is to know, it will reveal enough.

Trump told the Associated Press this week that nothing would be released until the government is through with its audit of him. The next day, Wednesday, he hedged a smidgeon to Fox News, saying he’d like to release the returns before the election. Don’t bet on that happening.

For one thing, if we were able to see how Trump’s fortune is structured and how much tax he pays on it, we would also be able to compute his liability under his proposed changes to the tax code. In other words, we would be able to approximate how much Trump stands to earn for himself and his heirs by pulling the strings of power. Is it any surprise he won’t go there?

Let’s take a closer look at the tax plan that he unveiled last fall. Plenty of experts have already done so.

As part of his populist appeal, Trump envisions simplifying the tax code and dismissing about 73 million households from paying any tax at all (most of those are already not paying). Those families will be able to submit a form to the IRS that says, “I win.” Yes, that is really his plan.

The cuts would lower taxes for people all income levels. But the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan but right-leaning watchdog group, noted “the biggest winners — in raw dollars and on a percentage basis — would be those in the top 10 percent of filers, particularly those in the top 1 percent.”

The top marginal rate for individuals would drop from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. The corporate rate would drop from 35 percent to 15 percent. He would do away with the estate tax. That adds up a lot of lost revenue — about $10 trillion over a decade, according to the Tax Foundation

Trump claims that the tax cuts would be made up for by closing some loopholes for the wealthy and corporations. But the Tax Foundation crunched the numbers and has deemed this to be wishful thinking. Severe cuts to spending would be necessary to avoid crushing growth in the national debt.

Wishful thinking is Trump’s stock in trade. Indeed, some speculate that another reason why he does not want the public to see his tax return is that his boasted wealth is squishier than he’d like to admit. Trump is notorious for overstating his attributes, and when it comes to his wealth he is especially touchy.

He sued former New York Times reporter Timothy O’Brien over the latter’s book, “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” which questioned Trump’s net worth. The book also explored if Trump convinced his siblings to borrow on his behalf from their trust funds to save him from financial ruin in the early 1990s. Trump’s lawsuit against O’Brien was dismissed.

Still, Trump is clearly rich to an extent most Americans cannot imagine. Oddly — and sadly — many tout this as an alluring quality. He’s so rich he can’t be bought, they say. This attitude reveals a pathetic inability to understand plutocracy, and its growing threat to our democracy. Americans continue to be suckered into unrealistic beliefs about their ability to upgrade their social class. Meanwhile, the policies and programs that are necessary to promote middle-class security are toppling one after another.

Donald Trump is not going to share his wealth with you, dear voter, or help you get rich on your own. He can’t. What worked for Trump will not work for you. His trick was the oldest one in the book: Have a rich daddy. And keep it in the family.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, May 14, 2016

May 15, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Plutocrats, Tax Returns | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“What Has Happened To Our Election?”: No Candidate Has Ever Lied As Frequently, Blatantly, And Blithely As Trump

When a man’s fancy gets astride on his reason,

        imagination is at cuffs with the senses,

        and common understanding as well as common

        sense is kicked out of doors, the first proselyte he

                makes is himself.”

                                –Jonathan Swift, “A Tale of a Tub,” 1704

For a man with a satirical turn of mind, presidential election years can be trying. Apparently your humble, obedient servant here isn’t angry enough to participate fully in the festivities. This is interesting, because I’ve rarely been mistaken for Mr. Sunshine. I’d be a total failure as a game show host.

Everywhere you turn, people are shaking their fists in each other’s faces. On television and online, that is. Most days, it’d be a good idea to don a crash helmet before opening Facebook. And the summer bickering season has hardly begun. These are mostly Republicans and Democrats fighting among themselves. The main event has yet to come.

Elsewhere, people go about their normal daily activities with seeming equanimity — although there’s been a marked increase in convenience store parking space shootings, actually. Maybe an armed society’s not such a polite society after all. How surprising would it be to see gunfire erupt at a presidential campaign event?

But I digress, and ominously.

Chez Pazienza recently described a mob of Bernie Sanders backers who disrupted a recent Clinton campaign event in Los Angeles. According to one witness, “[t]hey were cussing at people, calling women whores, and telling people to kill themselves. They were shouting in children’s faces, blowing sirens in their ears, and making them cry.”

Such antics would be hard to believe, had Pazienza not posted video clips. Asked by Rachel Maddow to disavow such behavior, Sanders basically ducked the question. And this is the Hippie Party. On college campuses, Clinton supporters complain they’re called “evil,” poor things.

Do you suppose they require “trigger warnings”?

At such times I’m reminded of Jonathan Swift’s timeless satire of the root causes of political fanaticism. Writing roughly 300 years ago in the wake of the English Civil War, Swift concocted an imaginary religious sect called “Aeolists.” (Aeolus was the Roman god of wind.) His target was anybody who claimed to be “inspired,” or as he saw it, filled with hot air.

“Words are but wind,” Aeolists believed, “and learning is nothing but words; ergo, learning is nothing but wind.” Swift depicted true believers “linked together in a circular chain, with every man a pair of bellows applied to his neighbour, by which they blew up each other to the shape and size of a [barrel]…. When, by these and the like performances, they were grown sufficiently replete, they would immediately depart, and disembogue for the public good a plentiful share of their acquirements into their disciples’ chaps.”

Has a more apt description of candidate Trump’s cult of personality ever appeared? Is there nothing the man could say that would give his enraptured supporters pause? As Paul Waldman notes in the American Prospect, he’s a one man tidal wave of disinformation.

“First, there’s the sheer breadth and character of his falsehoods. Absurd exaggerations, mischaracterizations of his own past, distortions about his opponents, descriptions of events that never occurred, inventions personal and political, foreign and domestic, Trump does it all…There has simply never been a candidate who has lied as frequently, as blatantly, and as blithely as Trump.”

Trump outdid even himself on Meet the Press last Sunday, disemboguing a couple of thunderous falsehoods in our collective faces. First he allowed as how he means to stop undocumented immigrants from voting in U.S. elections.

Informed by Chuck Todd that they’re already prevented by law from doing so, Trump allowed as how “You have places where people just walk in and vote.”

If he could document even one such polling place, that would be newsworthy. But of course Trump cannot, so instead he doubled down.

“We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world,” he claimed. That one the interviewer unaccountably let go.

Actually, U.S. tax revenue ranks near the bottom of the developed world as a percentage of GDP — just above Korea, Chile and Mexico. Corporate tax rates are theoretically high, but as most people know, loopholes are so plentiful that few companies pay them.

U.S. tax revenue per capita ranks nearer the middle of industrialized nations. As conservatives never tire of pointing out in other contexts, most countries in the European Union pay twice as much as Americans.

But then why bother? One could devote whole columns as Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler recently did, to debunking Trump’s epic falsehoods. Some of them are downright funny.

No, Vladimir Putin never called Trump a “genius.” He called him “flamboyant.” Only Trump, of course, would seek the Russian strongman’s approval.

But do such considerations matter to the man’s encircled supporters, each with a bellows discreetly inserted?

I don’t believe that they do.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, May 11, 2016

May 12, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 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

“Just Smoke And Mirrors”: Trump Soaking The Rich? Eh, Not Really

So now Donald Trump’s gone and done something serious. Bummer.

But actually, don’t sweat it, because if you look a little more closely and the tax plan he unveiled Monday, you’ll see it isn’t very serious at all: one more piece of evidence that to Republicans, when it comes to tax cuts, deficits truly don’t matter. He’d reduce the top marginal rate to 25 percent on dollars earned above $300,000 (for a married filer); it’s now 39.6 percent on dollars earned above $450,000. And he’d dramatically increase the number of people who pay no tax at all (but I thought Republicans were angry at these people and wanted them to pay more!).

The nonpartisan tax experts haven’t run the numbers yet, but they will soon, assuming there’s even enough detail in the proposal for them to try, and I expect that when they do, we’ll see what we always see with GOP tax proposals—it won’t add up, because they never do. And when confronted with these numbers, Trump, like Mitt Romney and George W. Bush and a parade of Republican candidates before him, will say these geeky little experts don’t know what they’re talking about because he’ll unleash the growth that’s been suffocated for the last eight years and the federal coffers won’t even be able to hold all the revenue that will roll in and life will be a dream.

Yada yada yada. But there is something interesting about Trump’s proposal: He wants to eliminate the carried interest provision that gives the hedge-fund guys a much lower tax rate than the rest of us. Right now, they often earn many millions every year and supposedly pay a rate of around 24 percent.

Jeb Bush is for doing this too. So that’s two major GOP candidates (we still calling Bush major?) who are for a tax increase. And not just any old tax increase. One that would soak the rich! Isn’t this awesome?

Actually, no. Well wait. Yeah, I mean, ever since Warren Buffet put it so starkly a few years ago by saying how ridiculous it is that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, sure, fixing this has been a matter of basic decency. The loophole is an absurd scam. It would be great to close it on principle.

But the problem is that it would make almost no difference to the United States Treasury. According to the Tax Foundation, closing the loophole for hedge-fund managers and private-equity partners, the two groups who take advantage of it now, would bring in a paltry $1.3 billion a year in revenue. By comparison, the estate tax that Trump and Bush both promise to eliminate brings in around $24 billion a year.

And in fact, Trump’s loophole fix wouldn’t bring in even $1.3 billion, because there’s a key difference between his proposal and Bush’s. As noted above, the lower rate is paid by two groups, hedge-fund managers and private-equity partners. Trump would have the new, higher rate apply only to hedge-funders, not PE people. Bush’s would make people in both categories pony up. Trump hasn’t explained why, but I imagine he would say that PE people are making longer-term investments that at least (hopefully) contribute to the economy, while hedge-funders just traffic in short-term profit maximization. They’re the people he means when he says things like these guys just push paper around.

So with Trump’s plan at least, we’re talking about a few hundred million dollars a year into the treasury. Meanwhile, he cuts the top rate from 40 to 25 percent. Bush would cut the top rate to 28 percent. Both would also reduce the top capital gains tax rate by a few points, would completely eliminate the inheritance tax, and would do away with something called the Alternative Minimum Tax, which limits the extent to which high-income earners can reduce their tax bills through deductions and exemptions. There’s a lot more along these lines. In fact, Josh Barro of The New York Times wrote that Trump’s proposal would still cut the tax bills of many hedge-funders because it would not subject all their income to the 39.6 percent rate.

Okay, let’s get out of the weeds now. The point is this. Because the carried-interest loophole gets a lot of press, and because nobody likes hedge-fund guys to begin with, lots of even pretty well-informed people think that closing this loophole constitutes the wielding of a mighty sword of economic justice. It is that in principle, but in practice it’s nothing. Comparative pennies in the grand scheme of things. So Republicans like Trump and Bush can go around saying “hey, look at me, I wanna tax the rich guys!”, and the media will buy it, while in fact they’re doing the opposite.

This is why Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, the leading conservative cop on the tax-increase beat, is just fine with all this. He gets the perception. “Doing carried-interest [repeal] permits rate reduction,” Norquist told me Monday. “So I’d say that’s a fine change.”

Democrats are partly to blame for how poorly all this is understood. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and (almost) all of them thunder about the Buffett Rule and the nasty hedge-funders because they’re an easy mark. But they don’t do a very good job of going on to explain that eliminating the loophole doesn’t amount to much. Well I say it’s time to start explaining.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, September 28, 2015

September 29, 2015 Posted by | Carried Interest Loophole, Donald Trump, Hedge Fund Managers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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