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On The Latest Round of Rioting at UC-Berkeley

There was yet another riot at the University of California-Berkeley over the Easter Day weekend, and judging by the all cell phone video footage that quickly wound up on the internet it was a pretty nasty affair. Such unpleasantness on the campus was a staple of the evening news way back in our boyhood, and lately it seems to be another one of those annoying ’60s fads that is back in fashion again.
This time around the violence is somehow different, though, even if it does seem destined to end in the same desultory way. Last time around Berkeley became famous as the birthplace of the “Free Speech Movement” that demanded free expression of an emerging New Left sensibility, but by now the New Left’s pony-tails have turned gray and its radical demands have become the status quo and the tie-dyed diaper baby grandchildren currently attending the university are famous for demanding speech codes and safe spaces from any sort of dissent. Those subsequent ’60s riots were a response to the Vietnam War, the wisdom of which remains debatable but undeniably involved more than 58,000 American fatalities and countless more casualties and was something you could at least understand somebody rioting about, but the previous riot at Berkeley was a response to a campus lecture by an inconsequential alt-right provocateur and self-described “faggot” named Milo Yiannapolous, which is something that most people would sensibly ignore.
Saturday’s riot happened during one of the many peaceable protests occurring around the country demanding that President Donald Trump publicly release his tax returns, which attracted one of the many counter-protests by supporters of the president, but even in Berkeley that wasn’t enough to cause a riot. So far as we can tell from all the cell phone video footage and some fine reporting by Esquire Magazine, of all places, it was the mix of black-masked self-described “anarchists” on the left and some self-described “white nationalist” types on the right that proved more combustible. The conditions for this happening are especially ripe at Berkeley, but hardly unique to that campus.
Most of the left eschews black masks and brown shirt tactics and anarchy, preferring their safe spaces and ’60s-era notions of non-violence, but they do have among them a troublesome number of people who are quite enthusiastic about all that. The vast majority of Trump’s most ardent supporters and pretty much all of the more reluctant ones have no use for white nationalism or its street-brawling ways, preferring law and order and old-fashioned notions about free speech, but by now there’s no denying they also some rather unsavory compatriots in their midst. You’ll find the extremists almost anywhere by now, and if you throw in the complex issues of race and class that you’ll find almost anywhere there’s reason to worry that Saturday’s riots could happen just a neighborhood away from anybody.
In both the distant and recent past we’ve faulted much of the left for making excuses for the more egregious behavior on its side, and been proud of the principled conservatives who took pains to distance themselves from those hippie-bashing hardhats and newfangled white nationalists who claimed the mantle of conservatism, but these days we have to admit that the Republican president did promise to pay the legal bills of anyone at his rallies who punched a protestor and openly longed for the good old days when they’d be carried out in a stretcher. Even the most peaceable sorts on both the left and right can get pretty confrontational in the comments section of any internet news site these days, all the panel discussions on all of the cable news networks seem more a verbal riot than a real debate, and even in the Senate it took the “nuclear option” to get a quite reasonable and even rather boring nominee confirmed to the Supreme Court.
We’re old enough to remember the ’60s, though, and can console ourselves that the country somehow stumbled its way through that tumultuous decade of far more violent and arguably more reasonable riots. The country had to stumble through the ’70s and all the rest of it to get to his damnable moment in time, where both the left and right seem to have jettisoned notions of free speech and full disclosure, and neither is willing budge an inch enough to disavow for their most unsavory compatriots, but for now it’s just a bunch of crazies pushing around trash dumpsters and duking it out on the always-crazy streets of Berkeley. The cell phone footage makes it look something from the last days of the Weimar Republic, but if they’d had cell phone cameras back then, and everyone could see hot very ridiculous it looked, perhaps it wouldn’t have ended so badly.

— Bud Norman

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The Point of No Tax Return

President Donald Trump spent an early part of Sunday “tweeting,” as he does most mornings. He wished everyone a Happy Easter, which suited the occasion, and he boasted of a military build-up that is apparently somehow already underway, but mostly he seemed annoyed the previous day’s protests around the country demanding the release of his tax returns.
The first “tweet” once again recounted his “almost impossible” electoral college victory, then asked “Now Tax Returns are brought up again?” His second outburst suggested “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday, adding that “Election is over!” Both were composed before Trump got around to wishing the country a Happy Easter, so together they suggest the protestors at least succeeded in rankling the president.
Many of the protests were indeed small, and the election is indeed over, but Trump should nonetheless get used to it being brought up again and again. Although he did win electoral college victory Trump lost the popular, many of those who voted against him don’t have to be paid to show up somewhere and wave a sign and chant slogans about it, and Trump’s capitalized Tax Return is too tempting an issue for them to drop it. The protestors allies in Congress and many of the media don’t intend to, and Trump will need better “tweets” to counter their arguments.
Campaign issues don’t end with the campaigns, as Trump should know after the decades he continued to make the same criticisms and conspiracy theories about every president since Ronald Reagan throughout their terms, and there’s no apparent reason this one should. Although Trump is not required by law to disclose his tax returns, with or with capitalization, there are valid reasons that for the past forty years every presidential nominee has done so and solid majorities of the public have come to expect it. Those reasons are all the more valid when a president retains a global empire business that is bound to be affected by what the federal government does over the next four years, as this one does, another break from a longstanding informal agreement that there are also valid reasons for, and which is also something that Trump’s critics can be expected to keep bringing up.
Worse yet, it’s hard to concoct a convincing argument for why Trump doesn’t release his tax returns. The sorts of Trump supporters who don’t need convincing will accept the stated reason that he’s under audit, even though that doesn’t prevent him from making his returns public, and shouldn’t put him in any sort of legal jeopardy, but eventually Trump will need to persuade some more skeptical sorts. His more stubborn apologists point out the educational records and other documents that Obama declined to release, and note that Democrats didn’t seem to mind that lack of transparency, but of course those supporters very much minded, and kept bringing it up throughout and now even after his term, and so did Trump himself, who “tweeted” repeatedly about it, so they also have to explain why things are now so different. For those of us who wanted to see Obama’s grades and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and anything else we could get our hands on about any any office-holding Democrats, but also want to see Trump’s tax filings and anything else we can learn his or any other Republican politician’s potential conflicts of power, that argument is utterly unconvincing.
Although it will drift on and off the front pages, we expect the stories and and the protests will continue. All the stories about investigations underway into Russia’s role in the past campaign will make mention of it, and so will all the stories about Trump-owned businesses benefiting from some deregulation or tax shift or federal contracts that are bound to come up. There will be plenty of speculation, too, and Trump’s “tweets” and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer don’t seem likely to allay the resulting suspicions. The only way to end it is to just go ahead and release the damned things, the way Obama did with the birth certificate he was pestered about by certain people even long after his victorious election was over.
That would not only put the issue to rest and allow Trump to “tweet” about more important issues, but also quell some of that speculation about what those unseen returns might reveal about Russia or any possible conflicts of interest from that global business empire. Surely there’s nothing the least bit compromising in those documents, after all.

— Bud Norman

No Returns from the Tax Returns

As a general rule tax returns are pretty dull reading, but President Donald Trump is an exception to an awful lot of rules, so of course there was was some interest in the two pages of his 2005 filing that was somehow intriguingly leaked. There wasn’t enough in those two pages to justify some of the resulting coverage, as it turns out, but the resulting hubbub is also newsworthy.
The two purloined pages were reportedly mailed to a journalist and published Trump biographer of little renown, then passed on to Rachel Maddow of the MSNBC cable news network, whose program relentlessly hyped the finding for hours and then spent a full 20 minutes of the long-awaited showtime in further build up before disclosing that there’s really nothing very embarrassing to Trump in the two pages. It was revealed that Trump paid $38 million in income taxes that year, which was more than most Americans did, and it represented a percentage of his income greater than what President Barack Obama or self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders forked over, and there was nothing about deductions claimed for contributions to the Russian mob or anything like that.
We’d call it the biggest journalistic anticlimax since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault, but by now every other media in the critic in the country has already beat us to the analogy. All the ancien regime media cringed in embarrassment, and even such a fellow Trump-bashing liberal as the late night comedian Stephen Colbert couldn’t resist some piercing ridicule. Maddow is the most impeccably liberal voice on television’s most impeccably liberal channel, which has lately been racking up record ratings as liberals seek a “safe place,” but her fellows liberals are understandably miffed about how she muffed the far bigger story they still have hopes for.
Those tax returns reveal Trump would have paid even more if not for something called the Alternative Minimum Tax, which his tax reform proposals would repeal, but that’s a rather arcane policy point, and even such Trump-bashing conservatives as ourselves don’t believe that just because something’s bad for Trump it’s good the country, and it’s certainly not the sort of complicated economic argument you hype all day long and then have two pages of anti-climax to show for it. The bigger story that liberals would prefer to hype is that all we of know of the vast financial empire that Trump has not divested himself from is two pages of a 12-year-old tax return somehow includes only exculpatory evidence. A Trump campaign manager and National Security have already been forced to resign because of contacts with the Russian government Trump has thus far flattered, and his Attorney General had recused himself from an ongoing investigation in broader contracts between the campaign and Russia, and all that’s been released of the tax returns that would surely prove Trump himself has no financial ties with the Russian government were those two not-entirely-exculpatory pages. There are already rumors afloat that Trump himself leaked his $38 million tax bill, then preemptively tweeted his indignant denial of whatever MSNBC might report to cover his tracks, and although even the ancien regime media won’t touch that conspiracy theory we will note it’s at least as plausible as Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad being in on the Kennedy hit, and people are saying, and we’ll leave it up to Congress to investigate if it’s true or not, and let similar Trumpian standards of truth prevail.
There’s something fishy about Trump’s Russophilia even from our rightward Trump-bashing perspective, perhaps all the more so after so many years of Cold War vigilance, so we’re also annoyed that handsome Rachel Maddow fellow has momentarily muddied the media waters. With enemies of the people like these, Trump might be wondering, who needs friends?

— Bud Norman

An Election Year Impervious to Bad Press

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump has been getting a lot of bad press lately, even by Republican president nominee standards, and by now it’s almost to a point where even such avid news readers as ourselves can hardly keep up. The bad press doesn’t seem to be having the the same effect it had on Republican presidential nominees in past election years, however, so it remains to be seen if the latest spate of stories will do any lasting damage.
The most recent round of stories have concerned many of the cast and crew and production staff of Trump’s long-running and highly-rated reality show “The Apprentice” testifying to his vulgar and sexist behavior, but at this late date in the race his vulgarity and sexism are already old news.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has by now spent millions airing aids that include the audio and video and print interviews where the thrice-married and boastfully adulterous former strip club owner has disparaged women’s appearances, joked about how you have to “treat ’em like “s**t,” and laughingly admitted he had no respect for women, among numerous other objectionable statements. With sources ranging from his appearances on Howard Stern’s shock jock to his time on Republican presidential debate stages, the record of vulgarity and sexism is hard for even his most fervent supporters to deny. Just four years ago the press was able to use an inadvertent and inoffensive allusion to “binders full of women” to convince much of the public that such a gentlemanly sort as Mitt Romney was an incorrigible sexist, even though he was perusing those binders to find qualified women for state government positions while he was governor of Massachusetts, but this time around they’re somehow finding it harder to stoke the same outrage.
Many of Trump’s most fervent supporters seem to relish the vulgarity and sexism, his more reluctant supporters can rightly note that Clinton’s husband is similarly vulgar and sexist and has always enjoyed her ruthless support, and even the most vaguely informed and still undecided are well aware that the Democrats and their press allies always say the Republican presidential nominee is vulgar and sexist. Trump was already polling poorly among women in general and most worrisomely song college-educated Republican women in particular, so his on-the-record rants have had some effect, but the added testimonials of some reality show co-stars seem unlikely to exacerbate the damage.
Just four years ago Democratic minority leader Sen. Harry Reid was able to harm the electoral chances of the scrupulously honest Romney’s reputation by flat-out lying that the Republican nominee had paid no income taxes for a couple of years, but this time around Trump will likely be unscathed by his apparent boasts that he’s been dodging a tax bill for a couple of decades. The flap started in the first presidential debate when Clinton was making the predictable arguments Trump being the first nominee from either party in the past 40 years who hasn’t divulged his tax records, and speculating that one reason might be that it would reveal he’s paid no taxes despite his much boasted-about wealth, to which Trump responded “that makes me smart.” Since then The New York Times has been reporting that leaked income tax information reveals Trump reported a $915 million loss back in ’95, which entitled him to 18 tax free years according to the convoluted tax code, and happily implied that Trump had taken full advantage of the opportunity. Trump hasn’t denied either the factual truth or implied speculations of the story, and instead has bragged further about his savvy understanding of the convoluted tax code, so we’ll leave the reader to draw his own conclusions about the veracity of The Times’ reporting and implications.
This time around, though, we don’t expect the truth will do so manage as the lies did the last time around. No one in America pays a penny more in taxes than that convoluted tax code requires, not Hillary Clinton or The New York Times or any of its reporters or even such self-righteously disgruntled Republicans as ourselves, so we can’t imagine any vaguely informed and still undecided voters holding it against him if he kept all his ill-begotten earnings to himself.
Trump is even claiming he had a fiduciary duty to his stock holders and employees and creditors to do so, and although we can’t think of any reason they should care what he paid on his personal taxes, and can more easily imagined why they’re probably more peeved about all the bills he’s shorted them on, so we don’t expect any vaguely informed and still undecideds will stop to think about that at all. He’s also claiming that such a shrewd fellow as himself understands that convoluted tax code better than anyone else, and how it’s used by greedy billionaires such as himself to dodge their fair share of the burden and shift it onto such suckers as yourself, which does have a certain populist appeal, even if his current tax plan does nothing to stop it and none of his ever-shifting opinions on the topic have once proposed a fairer solution. Still, we doubt the vaguely informed and still undecided will notice any of that, while Trump’s more reluctant supporters will glumly and rightly protest that Clinton and her perv husband once took a write-off on the underwear they donated to charity and are just as bad, as they are in all things, and we can’t see the poll number nudging in either direction as a result of this big story. There remains the presently undisputed fact that Trump somehow managed to lose $916 million in a single year, which in past years would have called into question his constant boasts about bringing his remarkable business acumen to at long last saving our deep-in-debt federal government, but this time around The New York Times has buried that tidbit six column inches under the lead paragraph, and Trump’s more reluctant supporters can rightly note how very suspiciously rich Clinton has become in the public service sector.
The Washington Post is gleefully reporting that the New York Attorney General has now shut down Trump’s charitable foundation, which has been the subject of at least three scandals they’ve already reported involving tax-dodging and and personal profit and no contributions for many years from the eponymous philanthropist, but the vaguely informed and still undecided probably won’t read about it, and if they do their reluctant Trump supporter friends can glumly and quite rightly recite all the scandals about Clinton’s phony-baloney pay-to-play “family foundation,” which they’ll have to glumly admit Trump once financially supported. It’s tawdry stuff, all around, but once again unlikely to nudge the polls in either direction.
There’s so much more going on that even such avid news readers as ourselves are hard-pressed to keep up with it, but the benefit of the more vaguely informed and still undecided among you the gist of it seems to be that both Trump and Clinton are every bit as awful as you already knew from the past few decades of occasionally paying attention. It’s enough to make us nostalgic for the last time around, when the press had to work hard to suggest that the Republican nominee was a vulgar sexist and the Democrats had to flat-out lie that he was a tax-dodger and neither candidate was making an issue of the other’s blissfully boring sex life.

— Bud Norman

Mitt Romney’s Taxes

Anyone who was planning to vote against Mitt Romney because he’s greedy and won’t release his tax returns should take note that he has now released yet another year of returns and that they reveal he’s an extraordinarily generous man who has given away a large chunk of his wealth. He’s not nearly so generous with his money as Barack Obama, who would selflessly redistribute every last penny of Romney’s wealth, but it’s a remarkable record of philanthropy nonetheless.

The more egalitarian types will be appalled that Romney made $13.7 million last year, and further appalled that the mere $1.94 million he paid in federal income taxes was only 14.1 percent of it, but those who read further into the stories about it should grudgingly acknowledge that the more than $4 million that he donated to various charities is a right neighborly gesture. Also worth noting, although buried toward the bottom of most reports, is that Romney actually paid more taxes than he was legally required to because he did not claim a deduction on most of his charitable giving. This is in stark contrast to the famously empathetic Bill Clinton, who was so meticulous in his tax preparations that he even deducted the value of the used underwear he donated to some charity that deals in such items.

Still, Romney probably didn’t pay enough to satisfy the cravings of his critics, most of whom will require several lifetimes in order to contribute $1.94 million to the government’s operations. They’ll note that most of the money Romney made was derived from capital gains on his many shrewd investments, and complain that capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than other income. The historical fact that a higher capital gains rate results in less economic activity that employs people and thus results in less money for the government will be overruled by their peculiar notion of fairness.

Critics will further quibble that Romney hasn’t provided 20 years of tax returns, which for no particular reason is the new standard of financial candor, but Romney has provided that information to the Price Waterhouse Coopers firm and they stake their valuable reputation on a report that he has paid 38.49 percent of his adjusted gross income to the federal government. This amounts to many millions of dollars, and although that might not be enough to satisfy the covetousness of the modern egalitarian is certain proves that Sen. Harry Reid was peddling a slanderous lie when he took to the Senate floor to allege that Romney had paid no income taxes at all.

Other people’s income tax filings don’t have the voyeuristic appeal for us that they seem to have for other folks, but what we’ve gleaned from Romney’s forms make us think that he’s not such a bad fellow after all.

— Bud Norman