Trump is Innocent of the Crime of Liberalism

This is a post I didn’t desire to write but felt compelled to do so. It’s the same topic of another recent post, Trump Family And Elite Corruption. When I shared that other one with a Donald Trump voter, albeit reluctant in their not actually liking Trump, they dismissed the information as underwhelming and unconvincing, even as they admitted to only having barely looked at any of the linked pieces that were shared. So, having confirmed what they already believed without any need to look at any possible information that might disconfirm by bringing doubt, they concluded this was further proof of the liberal bias of media that unfairly attacked Trump. Fake news!

It was amazing how quickly this reasonably intelligent and highly educated person returned to this rhetorical framing of a default narrative. This comes from someone who has otherwise admitted that Trump is corrupt and so that wasn’t even a point of disagreement. Yet the response to Trump being a swamp creature is that the media is liberal, as if the accusation of being liberal is worse than being morally depraved. Sure, Trump is bad, as this person would acknowledge, but… the media is liberal! Hang them! Hang them all! Liberalism is the one unforgiveable sin, against which all else pales in comparison. Trump may be an authoritarian demagogue and narcissistic social dominator, but at least he is not a liberal. This must be that infamous lesser-evil voting I’ve heard so much about it.

Some of the links in that earlier post were just describing the allegations and investigations. Others were detailing the evidence upon which cases were being made. So, I’m not sure which articles this person read or skimmed. But if they actually wanted to know, they would have to do more than a cursory look at a few pieces among many. In covering the specifics, there has been a fair amount of investigatve reporting, such as the CREW report and a Buzzfeed piece, SECRET MONEY: How Trump Made Millions Selling Condos To Unknown Buyers. For even greater detail, a number of book-length exposés have been published: Craig Unger’s House of Trump, House of Putin, David Enrich’s Dark Towers, James D. Zirin’s Plaintiff in Chief, Timothy K. Kuhner Tyranny of Greed, etc. One could easily argue that Donald Trump has been the most corrupt president in American history, certainly the most brazenly and shamelessly corrupt, although the competition is steep.

From the articles originally listed, here is one example that is similar to the Ukranian One allegation that the political right latched onto against Clinton: Behind Trump’s Push for “American Steel” in Pipelines, Another Russian Company with Putin Ties Stands to Benefit. The evidence in both cases is about the same, and yet Clinton got hit much harder in the news media by claims of scandal than did Trump in this case. So, bias obviously can go both directions, depending. Biased media aside, the article shows the commonality across the aisle about what big biz means in this context with Putin having his hands in everything. But I still consider such accusations to be weak, no matter which side asserts them. That isn’t the kind of thing that really interests me, although I think it’s important to demonstrate how the Trump family is not particularly different than the Clinton family.

More damning and dangerous, to my mind, is the everyday corruption of profiteering and legalized bribery (Donald Trump has turned the White House into a bribe factory), which is the kind of thing I found so egregious with the Clintons. Still, in many ways, it’s much more blatant with Trump, as the Clintons at least went to the effort of maintaining formal legality and respectability by filtering money through their foundation. Trump, instead, treats almost everything openly as a business deal to be made, even admitting conflicts of interest and admitting that they influence him. From ‘An Astonishing Rate of Corruption’: Trump Has Amassed 3,000 Conflicts of Interest Since Taking Office (reporting on the CREW report):

  • “55 members of Congress have made 78 visits to Trump’s resort properties.”
  • “Cabinet members have patronized Trump properties and attended events with special interests or wealthy political donors at least 30 times.”
  • “Foreign government-tied entities have held 13 events at Trump properties, and at least 134 foreign officials have visited one of Trump’s properties—violations of U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.”
  • “Special interest groups have sponsored 117 events at Trump properties since he took office.”

Plus, there is the open cronyism that pervaded the Trump administration: “The report details several specific examples of favors given to officials and associates who visit Trump’s properties. Patrons of the president’s private Mar-a-Lago club in Florida have been offered chances to “shadow rule” government agencies, while other members have been nominated to ambassadorships.” Not small stuff, by any means, and all documented. Here is some details from the CREW report itself:

“Late last year, CREW discovered that one of Trump’s companies applied for two trademarks in Argentina for “real estate affairs” and building construction, suggesting that plans for a Trump Tower Buenos Aires might be moving forward. These were the first trademarks that Trump has applied for in the country since his election.A closer look showed that the timing of the applications closely coincided with Trump administration action on tariffs in Argentina. After the trademark opposition period ended, Trump lifted tariffs on steel and aluminum from Argentina and a few other Latin American countries. Soon after the application was granted Trump reinstated the tariffs, defending his actions on Twitter by claiming that Argentina had manipulated their currency.

“Trump’s international conflicts of interest span the globe to Indonesia, where the daughter of one of his business partners has assumed a high ranking role in the Indonesian government, thus directly linking Trump’s business to a foreign government. Angela Tanoesoedibjo was appointed in October to a position which gives her power over tourism in the country. Tanoesoedibjo’s father owns and operates one of Indonesia’s largest real estate conglomerates, MNC Group, which is building two Trump-branded developments in the country. In one meeting between government officials and her father’s Trump-connected company, an official brought up a property MNC Group is developing that will have Trump-branded aspects.”

There are other examples like that. Consider the many business dealings Donald Trump has had with the Saudis, including royal family and including ties to Saudi investors going back decades: “Trump has been paid tens of millions by Saudi investors and its government through a variety of business deals” (Trump said he has ‘no financial interests in Saudi Arabia.’ But his businesses have made millions from the Saudi government, and the crown prince gave his New York City hotel a huge boost.). As president, he made sure the Saudi government got a generous arms deal, including nuclear weapons — a deal, by the way, that was lobbied by a Trump fundraiser. Also, Saudi lobbyist became a Trump appointee. Then there is the massive amount of money that Trump himself ackowledges was given to him — President Trump has a massive conflict of interest on Saudi Arabia:

“Crucially, though, he and his businesses have continued to benefit substantially from Saudi customers, including the government of Saudi Arabia. Press reports have indicated that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has recently paid for rooms and meals at the Trump hotels in Washington and Chicago. In 2017, Saudi lobbyists spent $270,000 to reserve rooms at Trump’s hotel in Washington. The kingdom itself paid $4.5 million in 2001 to purchase a floor of Trump World Tower and continues to pay tens of thousands in annual common charges to Trump businesses for that property (the total of which could be up to $5.7 million since 2001, according to one estimate). In the past year, as bookings fell overall, Trump’s hotels in New York and Chicago reported a significant uptick in bookings from Saudi Arabia. And a major factor in a recent increase in revenue for the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Manhattan was that Saudis accompanying the crown prince during a recent visit stayed there, as The Washington Post has reported.

“Trump said at a campaign rally in 2015 about Saudi Arabia: “I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.” What’s notable about that statement is not just the president’s description of his significant business ties to Saudi Arabia but his stark admission that he is inclined to look favorably on those who give him business.”

It’s not just one country that we’re talking about, according to Forbes which isn’t eactly a left-wing rag or communist propaganda (Trump’s Biggest Potential Conflict Of Interest Is Hiding In Plain Sight). A bank majority-owned by the Chinese government was renting space at Trump Tower for more than an estimated 2 million a year. Between domestic and foreign companies, along with payments from foreign governments, Trump has received hundreds of millions of dollars during his presidency — $175 million a year from tenants alone. And the company payments are legally protected as anonymous. Some of his tenants have done business with or been under investigation by the government. The whole situation screams out for the Emoluments Clause (Profiting off the Presidency: Trump’s Violations of the Emoluments Clauses), which was created for this precise reason (Trump faces avalanche of conflict-of-interest troubles):

“No president has ever held a fortune that spans the globe. He has licensed his name to buildings in far-flung countries, including Azerbaijan, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea and Turkey. Some are allies, some are ruled by autocratic dictatorships and some are at odds with American interests. Further, he owes hundreds of millions of dollars each to the government-owned Bank of China and the privately owned Deutsche Bank. The Trump Organization has plans to continue to expand the company around the globe during its namesake’s presidential administration.Not only do these foreign holdings, debts and future deals present imminent conflicts of interest for American foreign policy, but they also create an immediate constitutional concern. The U.S. Constitution’s emoluments clause states that no government official shall receive favorable payment from a foreign government, foreign government-owned company or foreign official without the consent of Congress. It is, in essence, an anti-bribery clause preventing foreign corruption.”

This isn’t being blown out of proportion. This level of conflicts of interest is unprecedented in the American presidency. It’s not only Trump himself but those he surounds himself with, such as General Michael Flynn and Thomas Barrack who had their own conflicts of interest (skim the first few pages of the following report: Whistleblowers Raise Grave Concerns with Trump Administration’s Efforts to Transfer Sensitive Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia, Interim Staff Report Committee on Oversight and Reform U.S. House of Representatives). There is also the extent of corporate cronyism and regulatory capture at a level probably never before seen, at least not at this level of crudeness and shamelessness (Mapping Corruption: Donald Trump’s Executive Branch). Also, reporting on this hasn’t been limited to just a few media sources and plenty of articles detail the examples and evidence, far from being wild conspiracy theories and loose accusations. Here is a small selection and really look at the powerful case being made: 

Exposing Trump’s Deals (Global Witness), A Handy List of Donald Trump’s Biggest Conflicts of Interest (Times), Tracking Trump’s Web of Conflicts (Bloomberg), 100+ Examples Of Donald Trump’s Corruption (Rantt Media), Trump’s Interests vs. America’s, Dubai Edition (The Atlantic), Trump’s global business empire raises concerns about foreign influence (Chicago Tribune), When Dirty Russian-Connected Money Saved Trump’s Ass and His Ensuing Business Disasters Helped Destroy the Global and American Economies (Real Context News), Trump’s Dangerous, Unprecedented, and Unconstitutional Conflicts of Interest – Center for American Progress (The Center for American Progress), 

Saudi Arabia Paid Washington Lobbyist to Book 500 Rooms in Trump’s D.C. Hotel Shortly After 2016 Election (Slate), Trump’s Conflict-of-Interest Problem Didn’t End With the Doral Debacle (Mother Jones), “I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia.” (Politifact), Did we betray the Kurds for Trump Towers? (NJ), Trump Business Deals In Southeast Asia Raise Conflict Of Interest Concerns (NPR), Jared Kushner and the Qatar blockade: Conflict of interest? (Salon), A DONALD TRUMP APPOINTEE — ALSO A SAUDI GOVERNMENT LOBBYIST — IS REASSESSING HIS ROLES (The Center for Public Integrity), Tracking Trump’s Conflicts of Interest (Sunlight Foundaton), 

In some ways, this is worse legalized bribery than seen among the Clinton dynasty. Some of these actions easily could be argued do cross the line of legality, not that they’re likely to ever be prosecuted. Legality aside, they are swampy corruption galore. Among the most corrupt presidents history, Trump has to be one of the top going by the available evidence of what we know so far. It’s not like anyone has ever mistaken him as a good person. He has a long history as a criminally corrupt businessman (Five times law enforcers could have arrested Donald Trump but didn’t), from cheating contractors to tax evasion schemes to bribery (Trump’s Company Paid Bribes to Reduce Property Taxes, Assessors Say), but there is also a dark history of working with organized crime, including multiple incidents of suspected money laundering. It defies credibility to think that he wouldn’t bring this corruption with him into the White House. 

The money laundering accusations and suspicions are among the most worrying. They demonstrate the global connections between plutocracy, political power, and organized crime. The highly unusual financial transactions have implicated Donald Trump many years before he decided to run for president. And it hasn’t only been a concern in the US. Foreign governments and banks have looked into potential money laundering that involved Trump and his family. It doesn’t prove money laundering did happen. But these cases have kept coming up over a long period of time, far from being limited to the reporting of American liberal media. 

The money at stake is not small, as shown by looking to our northern neighbor: “The most recent estimates of the dirty money flowing through the area’s casinos and real estate put the totals in the billions of Canadian dollars (Why Trump should be worried about Vancouver’s new crackdown on money laundering). It’s literally at least a hundred times worse in the United states. “The US Treasury estimates that $300bn is laundered annually in America. This is probably a fraction of the true number. Worse, the US government has no idea who controls the companies that channel the money because America lacks a corporate central registry” (How money laundering is poisoning American democracy). That is the total laundering, not only that of Trump and his cronies. He is just one scummy moral reprobate among many. Among the plutocrats, he is closer to the rule than an exception.

If Trump Is Laundering Russian Money, Here’s How It WorksWhat is Money Laundering and Why Has Donald Trump Been Linked to It?Is Donald Trump’s casino empire linked to money laundering? Past financial crimes may be the president’s biggest problemThe Kleptocrats’ Money-Laundering Middleman Who Did Deals With TrumpA Russian Mobster Built Trump SoHo Into Putin’s Money Laundering RacketThe Trump Family Moves Cash Around Like Money-Laundering Drug CartelsHow the Trumps kept their hands clean while taking criminals’ moneyTrump Taj Mahal Settles Over Anti-Money-Laundering ViolationsMueller Failed to Follow Trump’s Money TrailU.S. House confirms it is conducting “major” money laundering investigation involving President TrumpWhy has Congress stalled on investigating money laundering allegations at Trump properties?Can Trump Organization Executives Be Prosecuted for Money Laundering?Do Trump’s Taxes Show He’s a Failure, a Cheat, or a Criminal?Trump’s Tax Returns Are a Scandal for the President—and for America,

A Trump hotel in Panama reportedly was responsible for laundering millions of dollars in drug moneyTrump’s Panama tower used for money laundering, reports sayTrump’s Luxury Condo: a Congolese State AffairMessy web of Trump ties in Turkish mogul’s money-laundering caseA Kazakh dirty-money suit threatens to reach Trump’s business worldCalls to Probe Trump-Guiliani Money Laundering SchemeTrump OK’d business partner with alleged Iran laundering tiesDeutsche Bank Staff Saw Suspicious Activity in Trump and Kushner AccountsThe journalist who revealed the secrets of Trump’s relationship with Deutsche BankDid Deutsche Bank Sweep Possible Money Laundering By Trump Under The Rug?Deutsche Bank employees say leaders dismissed concerns about suspicious Trump transactionsUS probes Trump money laundering through Irish golf courseFinance Journalist: Trump’s Scotland Resort Isn’t a Golf Business, But a ‘Money Disappearing Business’Did Trump launder money through his Scottish golf clubs? Top official demands investigationTrump wealth order probe urged over Scottish golf resortsScotland inches closer to investigating Trump for money launderingScottish Leader Says Trump Should Face ‘Accountability’ In Turnberry Probe

For certain, these are not isolated cases, as the Trump family going back generations has had a well-documented history of legally and ethically questionable activities. As has been pointed out, Donald Trump originally got his earliest inheritance as part of one of a tax evasion scheme that could have been prosecuted at the time, if New York City had not been so corrupt. Some of the federal, state, and local investigations into Trump are surely false or invalid, maybe some being straight-up partisanship, but it would be naive to dismiss them all in this manner (Tracking 30 Investigations Related to Trump). Even ignoring those, one has to consider all the foreign investigations as well. Scandal, financial and otherwise, has followed Donald Trump his whole life and has plagued the Trump family since before he was born.

A recent example has to do with the notorious Deutsche Bank. “The bank was “laundering money for wealthy Russians and people connected to Putin and the Kremlin in a variety of ways for almost the exact time period that they were doing business with Donald Trump,” Enrich said. “And all of that money through Deutsche Bank was being channeled through the same exact legal entity in the U.S. that was handling the Donald Trump relationship in the U.S. And so there are a lot of coincidences here”” (Why Did Deutsche Bank Keep Lending to Donald Trump?  — “Trump, Inc.” Podcast). This is a well established pattern. After his financial troubles in the 1990s, no US bank would go near him. And ever since, his finaces have been heavily tied in with Russians who were willing to loan him money, invest in his projects, start real-estate partnerships, and purchase of Trump condos  (How Russian Money Helped Save Trump’s Business). 

That happened to be the same period of the rise of Putin’s control of Russia, along with the rise of a Putin-supported oligarchy that had money to throw around. Trump’s branding empire was built on this Russian money. “Of course, Trump’s shady dealings aren’t exclusively with Russians. He’s eclectic that way. He’s made deals with Kazakh money launderers, with corrupt businesses in India and with a shady casino operator hoping to expand his operation in Vietnam. Nor is real estate the only realm where Trump has been involved with potential money laundering. In 2015, federal authorities fined the already-bankrupt Trump Taj Mahal $10 million for violations of anti-money-laundering laws” (Trump’s Dirty Money). Let us say Trump made sure to diversify his portfolio.

The specific case that drew public attention was when “anti-money-laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank had flagged “suspicious activity” on the accounts of both Donald Trump and Jared Kushner in 2016 and 2017” (DID DEUTSCHE BANK SWEEP POSSIBLE MONEY LAUNDERING BY TRUMP UNDER THE RUG?). It should have been reported to the Amercan authorities, but that bank has had close long-term financial ties with the Trump family and decded to not report it (Deutsche Bank says money-laundering reports not waived for Trump), even though it was part of a pattern. The year before, in 2015, several transactions had been flagged when “money had moved from Kushner Companies to Russian individuals,” according to anti-money-laundering specialist Tammy McFadden who reviewed the information while working there and advised it be sent to the government. Instead, a management team that had close associations with Kushner intervened by bypassing normal procedures and decided to shut down any further inquiry.

By the way, investing in property has long been a favored way of laundering money, as well as for legalized bribery when paying above actual value, the latter also being alleged when a Russian oligarch paid $100 in buying a $40 million property from Trump in 2008 during the real estate bust. “According to BuzzFeed News, one-fifth of all Trump-branded condos sold in the U.S. since the 1980s were handled in cash transactions that allowed buyers to use shell companies to obscure their finances and identities — a type of exchange that the Treasury Department considers “an attractive avenue for criminals to launder illegal proceeds while masking their identities”” (Deutsche Bank Flagged Trump and Kushner for Potential Money Laundering: Report). Much of Trump’s money from foreign sources, including Putin-related oligarchs and organized crime, comes through over-priced condos and the rental of space such as in Trump Tower —- Trump’s Russian Laundromat:

“But even without an investigation by Congress or a special prosecutor, there is much we already know about the president’s debt to Russia. A review of the public record reveals a clear and disturbing pattern: Trump owes much of his business success, and by extension his presidency, to a flow of highly suspicious money from Russia. Over the past three decades, at least 13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties. Many used his apartments and casinos to launder untold millions in dirty money. Some ran a worldwide high-stakes gambling ring out of Trump Tower—in a unit directly below one owned by Trump. Others provided Trump with lucrative branding deals that required no investment on his part. Taken together, the flow of money from Russia provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics. “They saved his bacon,” says Kenneth McCallion, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Reagan administration who investigated ties between organized crime and Trump’s developments in the 1980s.

“It’s entirely possible that Trump was never more than a convenient patsy for Russian oligarchs and mobsters, with his casinos and condos providing easy pass-throughs for their illicit riches. At the very least, with his constant need for new infusions of cash and his well-documented troubles with creditors, Trump made an easy “mark” for anyone looking to launder money. But whatever his knowledge about the source of his wealth, the public record makes clear that Trump built his business empire in no small part with a lot of dirty money from a lot of dirty Russians—including the dirtiest and most feared of them all.”

Look at Trump’s financial history these past few decades, as various members of the Trump family have admitted to most of their money coming from Russia (How Russian Money Helped Save Trump’s Business):

“All this history helps put into context some recent developments in the investigations by Mueller and the Southern District of New York, which have focused on supposed Trump collusion or conspiracy with the Russians. It may have seemed odd at first that during the presidential campaign the people in Trump’s orbit—including Trump’s son, daughter, and son-in-law—were contacted by at least 14 Russians, according to information emerging from the federal investigations. Or that in November 2015, according to a sentencing memo published recently, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was approached by a Russian who offered “political synergy” between the Trump campaign and Russia (adding that a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin would have “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well”).  

“But in fact at least some of these encounters appear to have sprung from business contacts Trump had developed over nearly two decades.

“According to Trump’s former real-estate partner and other sources who are familiar with the internal workings of the Trump Organization, his post-’90s revival may have really begun in the early 2000s with the Bayrock Group, which rented offices two floors down from Trump’s in Trump Tower. Bayrock was run by two investors who would help to change Trump’s trajectory: Tevfik Arif, a Kazakhstan-born former Soviet official who drew on seemingly bottomless sources of money from the former Soviet republic; and Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman who had pleaded guilty in the 1990s to a huge stock-fraud scheme involving the Russian mafia. […]

“By the time he ran for president, Trump had been enmeshed in this mysterious overseas flow of capital—which various investigators believe could have included money launderers from Russia and former Soviet republics who bought up dozens of his condos—for a decade and a half. And Felix Sater was pitching Cohen on a Moscow deal as recently as mid-2016—as Trump was clinching the Republican nomination, according to a sentencing memo recently unveiled by the Mueller probe. […]

“In a 2016 interview with ABC News, Trump did allow that he’d done one Russian deal. “The primary thing I did with Russia, I bought a house in Palm Beach at a bankruptcy,” Trump said. “I bought it for about $40 million. I sold it for $100 million to a Russian.” That 2008 sale of a six-acre Palm Beach estate to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev is also reportedly being reviewed by Mueller’s team. At the time, Trump claimed that he was able to flip the house for such a high price in only four years because of renovations. But so huge was the differential in price—especially since by the time Trump sold the property to Rybolovlev in 2008, real-estate prices were plummeting in the financial crisis—that the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden, has asked for an investigation into the sale.

““That deal delivered so much cash to Trump, it almost has to be seen as a campaign contribution, or the purchase of Donald Trump,” said D’Antonio. Earlier this year the buyer, Rybolovlev, appeared on a U.S. Treasury Department unclassified list of Russian oligarchs, or influential politicians and business professionals who are considered close to Putin.

“Even Trump’s sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, have admitted that Russians supplied the Trump Organization much of its capital needs.

“In September 2008, at the “Bridging U.S. and Emerging Markets Real Estate” conference in New York, the president’s eldest son, Donald Jr., said: “In terms of high-end product influx into the United States, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. Say, in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo, and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” In 2014, his younger brother Eric—also an executive in the Trump Organization—told a well-known sports writer, James Dodson, after the latter asked him where the organization was getting the money to buy up so many golf courses: “Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” (In 2017, after the Mueller investigation began, Eric Trump denied making the comment.)”

I know how many feel about the Mueller probe, as even some left-wingers like Jimmy Dore have considered it partisan political theater. But there are questions that need to be answered, issues that need to be investigated — there is overwhelming evidence of multiple networks of powerful figures that have access to large sums of money to fund a variety of agendas and organizations (Following the Money: Trump and Russia-Linked Transactions From the Campaign to the Presidential Inauguration – Center for American Progress). And as I keep pointing out, there really was something fishy going on with political insiders, including Trump associate Paul Manafort, working with one of Putin’s many proxies. To be fair, the brother of one of the top DNC insiders was working with Manafort, but I already covered that issue elsewhere.

Also, keep in mind that Manafort had been doing business with Trump in the year before the campaign and had been meddling in Eastern Europe for at least a decade. And like Trump, Manafort has been caught up in financial questions involving the Deutsche Bank. There are also questions that never have been answered: “Trump actively pursued a major real estate deal in Moscow while he was campaigning for president. He worked closely with a career criminal on the Trump SoHo Hotel project before he even ran for president, a development funded in part with lots of murky money from eastern Europe” (Mueller Failed to Follow Trump’s Money Trail). Mueller, for fear of blowback, never pursued this line of investigation, although maybe he should have or else another investigator, but Congress also backed off. 

Those issues are not insignificant, especially in the context of decades of Trump’s ties to Putin along with Russian oligarchs and Russian mafia, the latter two working directly under Putin’s power (Trump’s businesses are full of dirty Russian money. The scandal is that it’s legal.). The Trump family has long been into shady business practices and business partners. In our cycicism, we shouldn’t take that so lightly. It’s not only that this kind of behavior is morally wrong and anti-democratic, whether or not legally prosecutable, but that it has become normalized. It corrupts not only goverment for it, more importantly, corrupts all of American society. And, of course, it’s bipartisan — How money laundering is poisoning American democracy:

“Donald Trump is the public face of a problem that extends into the heart of America’s system. It spans Democrats and Republicans, New York and Washington, the public and private sectors. It is a curse that dare not speak its name in the 2020 election.

“It is easy to guess why Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner, goes light on it. Mr Biden helped to turn Delaware, his home state, into the most popular domicile for anonymously-owned companies. Without those, The Trump Organization would have garnered far fewer of the investors that bought its condominiums. In one of Mr Trump’s towers in Florida, more than 80 per cent of its units are owned by shell companies. The US has 10 times more shell companies than the next 41 jurisdictions combined, according to the World Bank.

“To be sure, unlike Mr Trump’s alleged transgressions, Mr Biden’s are legal. But it is “legal graft” that has seeped into all corners of US politics — and society beyond. Mr Biden has done as much as any US public figure to put such practices on the statute books. […] There used to be a bright red line between America and the world’s kleptocracies. Now they are symbiotically linked.”

Even so, there are some laws already in place to investigate and prosecute many such potential crimes, if there was political will to do so. It’s certainly not for a lack of evidence in justifying further investigation, and we don’t need to prove any specific allegation beforehand since that is the purpose of an investigation. This is quite concerning to see such corruption, to say the least. It was bad enough when he was merely a sleazy businessman, but it’s downrght demoralizing to see it continue thrughout his administration (Donald Trump, Russian Oligarchs, And A Trail Of Money Laundering).

Like the Bushes and Clintons, the Trumps have all been powerful figures in the main parties for many decades. Trump was associating with the likes of Paul Manafort going back to the 1980s. Also, the Trumps and Clintons are longtime cronies and close family friends. The whole Trump clan is swampy and the same is true of many brought in by the administration. Yet like the Clintons there almost always is plausible deniability and teams of lawyers, not that it makes corruption better when it outwardly follows the letter of the law or when it is so well hidden that it can’t be proven illegal or else when those in power have such legal protection that they are for all practical purposes beyond the prosecutory reach of the law — The Self-Dealing Administration:

“In May of 2018, China awarded Mr. Trump’s golden child, Ivanka, seven trademarks for her now-defunct lifestyle brand, right around the same time her father was pledging to save a major Chinese telecommunications company, ZTE, from going belly up. Ivanka’s office said there was no special treatment involved.

“What’s good for the Trump family is, apparently, also good for the family of Ms. Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, and their business interests. In May 2017, Mr. Kushner’s sister played up her brother’s position as senior adviser to the president when pitching some of Kushner Companies’ real estate developments to prospective Chinese investors through a federal program that provides fast-track visas to wealthy foreign investors. The project “means a lot to me and my entire family,” she told them. The company denied any impropriety.

“Also in 2017, both Citigroup and Apollo Global Management, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, made large loans to Kushner Companies after White House meetings between Mr. Kushner and top executives from those firms. The involved parties insisted that the loans had nothing to do with Mr. Kushner’s position — that, in fact, his family’s business had not even come up in the discussions. The $184 million loan from Apollo came through in November. The next month, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission dropped an investigation into Apollo. While there was no indication that the two episodes were related, the timing was a tad unseemly. […]

“In politics, as in life, the fish rots from the head. And many members of the administration seem to have embraced the first family’s ethical flexibility. Among the top officials to depart under allegations of self-dealing or other misuse of taxpayer money were the secretary of the interior, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the secretary of health and human services and the secretary of veterans affairs. Impressively, Wilbur Ross remains the commerce secretary, despite reports of multiple sketchy financial dealings.

“Forget Abraham Lincoln’s Team of Rivals. Mr. Trump will be remembered for assembling a world-class Team of Grifters.

“The Trump campaign world presents its own opportunities for self-enrichment. Before being ousted as campaign manager this summer, Brad Parscale had been facing scrutiny both for the campaign’s profligate spending and for the lavish lifestyle he had adopted since joining Team Trump. Following Mr. Parscale’s demotion, the campaign began an audit of spending during his tenure, according to Business Insider. (The campaign has denied that Mr. Parscale is being targeted by the review.)

“Mr. Parscale features prominently in recent allegations that the Trump re-election effort has been violating campaign finance laws. In late July, a nonpartisan watchdog group, the Campaign Legal Center, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the campaign and a related fund-raising committee of masking $170 million in spending to vendors and Trump family members by funneling the payments through companies run by Mr. Parscale and others formed by the campaign’s lawyers. Among the outlays in question are fat salaries for Eric Trump’s wife, Lara, and Don Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle. The campaign has denied any wrongdoing.”

One can take that information as one will. It’s not easy to draw any specific conclusion about it in legal terms. Obviously, Trump is a bad hombre. But did he cross the line into proveable and prosecutable criminality during the past four years? All that can be said for absolutely certain is that, if all of this overwhelming corruption is not illegal, it should be. But put this in context, Trump is not the only politician and plutocrat who should be in prison. Still, justice has to begin somewhere and there is no time like the present. Not that I have any faith that justice will be served. At the very least, it would be satisfying to finally have public acknowledgement of the injustice itself. I’d settle for a truth commission that let the guilty go free if it forced truth to the surface and forced the corruption out of of the government. Punishment of the guilty would simply be a nice added benefit.

Trump Family And Elite Corruption

Here we are, nearing the end of Donald Trump’s administration. He may have only been a one-term president, but he has left quite a wake in his passing through the halls of power (not unlike Merry Brandybuck tossing stones into the lake beneath the western walls of Moria). It might not settle back down very quickly, if it settles down at all. Now the Clinton Democrats, for good or ill, will be back in power. Joe Biden, no stranger to D.C., is Trump’s replacement. He brings much political and personal baggage with him, as the campaign season demonstrated. The focus on his son, Hunter Biden, didn’t cost him the election. But it didn’t help either, considering his weak victory against a weak incumbent (similar to the Fellowship of the Ring escaping the Watcher in the Waters by running into the caves of Moria).

The recent focus on the Hunter Biden scandal re-opened some dark corners from the previous scrutiny into Ukraine, including bringing to light the fact that John Kerry’s stepson, Chris Heinz, was working with Hunter at Burisma — the cronyism is widespread. Most importantly, it brings back to mind the investigations into the bipartisan collusion involving Ukraine and Vladimir Putin (John Podesta, Clinton Democrats, and Ukraine). The topic remains as relevant as ever. But, as expected, the years of scandals and investigations get lost in the shadows as the glare of political theater and media melodrama takes center stage. It’s not clear what more is known now than in previous years. There have been so many scandals and allegations that it’s hard to keep track of them all. If you want a quick summary, there is a decent piece by Joseph W. Kopsick, Evidence of the Trumps’ and Clintons’ Possible Collusion with Russia and Ukraine (Incomplete). However, he doesn’t link to any sources of evidence or quotes. It is a summary of accusations made, not a summary of the arguments for and against the question of the validity of the accusations.

Some accusations are weak and invalid. Consider how Joule Unlimited and Rusnano is used to claim a direct connection, possibly a point of corruption and collusion, between John Podesta and Vladimir Putin. There is much criticism about the perceived lack of compelling evidence (Travis Gettys, Fox News hypes WikiLeaks claims about Clinton’s ties to Russia — just as Trump asks followers to watch). Is it possible? Sure. But is it proven? Not even close. Then again, such a hypothetical link is not implausible, considering we know Podesta’s brother had no problem knowingly working with an organization involving someone backed by Putin. Still, speculation is not enough to justify an accusation. Just because I don’t trust the Clinton Democrats doesn’t mean I trust the slanderous agenda of Fox News and Trump. Outrage for the sake of outrage is not my cup of tea.

Besides the implications of bipartsan collusion are much more compelling and damning. But neither side wants to touch that or even acknowledge it. This is why Democrats want to implicate Trump in the crimes of Paul Manafort. The fact of the matter is Manafort’s main guilt, at least in terms of Ukraine, involved acts prior to his becoming Trump’s campaign manager. Sure, they had some business associations in the past and they ran in the same social circles, at least since the Reagan era. But even Trump should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Anyway, if one wants to paint Trump as a Russian asset or otherwise compromised, it’s not hard to do. He has been in the immediate orbit of those like Vladimir Putin for decades, along with personal connections and business dealings with Russian oligarchs and Russian mafia figures, often tied to Putin. The sale of property far below market prices implicates Trump in money laundering with the Russian mafia.

The potential wrongdoings that could be investigated and prosecuted are numerous. This corruption is an open secret. If you’re interested in the detailed case against Trump, check out Jay McKenzie’s series: Trump, Putin and the mob. Research collection. Part 1: Trump campaign connections.Part 2: #BudapestBridge and the Hungarian connection to TrumpPart 3: Ron Lauder, Bibi Netanyahu and their friends at Breitbart; Part 4: Paul Manafort was the Kremlin’s point man on the Trump campaign; Part 5: Twitter, Russia and Silicon Valley’s “Persian Mafia”; & Part 6: Trump, Felix Sater and their ties to mafia Don Semion Mogilevich. Agree or disagree in the significance of the entanglements of Trump and his minions, one thing that can’t be doubted is the existence of corrupt cronyism, not to mention the geopolitical power and financial profit of their machinations. Nonetheless, that is a far cry from proving Putin got Trump elected. But it sure does corroborate how enmeshed he was with complex webs of unsavory figures.

One might add that Paul Manafort wasn’t a nobody who just showed up on Trump’s doorstep right before his campaign began. They may have not been close friends and Trump may have had a genuine senior citizen moment in his claiming to not have immediately remembered Manafort, but their relations were far from distant or superficial. Their dealings go back to the 1980s when Trump, as with Ronald Reagan, was one of the first clients of Manafort’s firm. Whatever other associations they may have had over the decades, six months before joining Trump’s campaign in March of 2016, here is what was going on: “Felix Sater and Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, work together on a Trump Tower Moscow deal. Donald Trump signs a letter of intent on the deal in October of 2015.” Then three months in as campaign manager, Manafort was at the “meeting held at Trump Tower between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives” (McKenzie, Part 4). One can sense underlying connections.

Keep in mind that Manafort was involved as a foreign agent in Ukraine for at least a decade. He may have been there as early as 2004 during that country’s presidential election (Mustafa Nayem, AMERICAN SPIN-DOCTORS ON YANUKOVYCH’S SERVICE; from ACTION UKRAINE REPORT – AUR – Number 833, U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC)) or, according to another source, even earlier in 2003 (Yulia Tymoshenko and John Does 1 through 50 v. Plaintiffs; United States District Court for the Southern District of New York). Certainly, he was a notorious and powerful Ukranian actor beginning at the latest during 2005.

And by 2006, when living in Trump Tower, Manafort was “hired by Oleg Deripaska and paid $10 million a year to improve Vladimir Putin’s image with the west” and “to lobby directly for Vladimir Putin” (McKenzie). Also, “Paul worked closely with, at least, two Russian intelligence officials in Ukraine — Viktor Medvedchuk and Manafort’s assistant, Konstantin Kilimnik. Manafort worked with Kremlin propaganda there to help elect a pro-Putin candidate, which, we now must admit, is exactly the situation we saw in Donald Trump’s campaign.” Essentially, “Paul Manafort was Putin’s employee for several years.” It’s hard to imagine Trump was clueless of the existence of Manafort and all that he was doing.

Here is McKenzie’s description of the decade spent in service to Putin and his minions, overlapping with the work he began doing with Trump prior to the campaign: “Consider the amount of work Manafort did from 2005 onwards with the men involved in the 2004 election rigging. Also remember that Manafort’s allegiances did not shift. He began work with Oleg Deripaska in 2000–01. He was introduced to Yanukovych by Deripaska. Manafort began to work with Putin directly in 2006, and Paul continued to work for Yanukovych until 2014, when he fled Ukraine and began living in exile in Moscow.” Manafort had a well known reputation for the work he had done there. It was as significant as his reputation in New York City and Washington, D.C.

It wasn’t only that Trump had to know the kind of people he was getting in bed with. He was already in bed with them. When pointing to them being part of the same social circles, this includes Putin himself and numerous Russian oligarchs, the latter only allowed to be in that elite position because they worked for Putin or otherwise served his interests. As a conclusion, McKenzie states that, “Who is the most common and recurring link between Firtash, Mogilevich, Deripaska, and Fred Trump’s former righthand man? Simple, it’s former Trump campaign chairman and Trump Tower resident Paul Manafort.”

Not even Fox News is able to deny the obvious: “Investigating the business ties between Russia and those in President Donald Trump’s orbit is a legitimate exercise. One-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was an advisor to the pro-Russian Ukrainian president. Former Trump advisor Carter Page had energy deals involving Russian companies. Former National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn gave a nicely paid speech in Moscow as a private citizen and was less than complete in explaining his conversations with Russian officials. And then there is the simple fact that Attorney General (former senator) Jeff Session, while a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, communicated with the Russian Ambassador” (Peter Schweizer, Trump vs. Clintons’ Russia ties (guess who always got a free pass)).

Of course, Fox News tried to downplay the import with lesser evilism, a tactic also used by DNC-aligned media. But it doesn’t feel overly satisfying to argue about whether Putin, as geopolitical puppet master, has reached further up the asses of the Trump gang or the Clinton gang. A political independent and equal opportunity critic has a hard time making sense of most of it. All that becomes clear is that the halls of power and financing are flooded with devious and sinister actors, and very little of it has to do with partisan politics. One begins to sense what is meant by references to the shadowy deep state.

To suggest that the Russian and related investigations were partisan fake news is total bullshit. The conflict certainly was spun by corporate media for the purposes of corporatist politics, but both sides participated in the staged production because both sides hoped to keep the real issues out of the limelight. Maybe it all comes down to power, as spoken through the language of wealth. Money knows no party lines nor national boundaries. Whether Republicans or Democrats hold the presidency, those benefitting from American business interests always seems to somehow involve profit for Putin-backed companies and Russia oligarchs. This was seen with uranium during the Obama administration (Democrats, Russians, and Uranium). And it was seen with steel during the Trump administration (Steve Horn, Behind Trump’s Push for “American Steel” in Pipelines, Another Russian Company with Putin Ties Stands to Benefit).

For many years, there were those who rightly pointed to the legalized bribery as a means for powerful interests to buy access and benefits. Besides the Uranium One scandal, this also included the Saudis having donated to the Clinton Foundation to ensure they would receive a generous arms deal from Hilary Clinton when she was Secretary of State (Clinton Foundation–State Department controversy). Those involved all operated within the letter of the law and maintained careful divisions to allow for plausible deniability, but any honest observer would admit that it is bribery and corruption. This was the infamous pay-to-play. This subverting of democracy is so normalized as to hardly be scandalous at all, at least to the mind grown cynical.

Donald Trump, in many ways, maybe doesn’t get criticized as harshly as one might expect. Everyone already knew he was a sleazy businessman before he was elected. Well known is his having run businesses into the ground, declared bankruptcy over and over, evaded debt collectors, cheated business partners, refused to pay contractors, and mistreated employees. Then there are outright scams like Trump University. Only his wealth and high-powered lawyers have saved him from the consequences and punishments that he deserves. All of that is on top of a lifetime dwelling in the swampy waters of the elite, from New York City to Washington, D.C. to Moscow and beyond. Surely, his close ties to the political elite in both parties, including the Clintons, helped protect him and his business interests.

Trump and his entre family were born in the swamp and have flourished there. The Trumps, in ever seeking profit, haven’t even pretended to care about democracy, but that is no surprise to their supporters and so outrage is limited. No one, Republican or Democrat, ever expected Trump to be anything other than a slimy swamp creature. In fact, Trump proudly campaigned on being corrupt, arguing that only someone as corrupt as him could fight corruption, as strange as that might sound to a mind not totally demented by the brutal logic of power. With such open corruption, it’s hard to attack Trump’s corruption as a weakness or a failure. It is simply who he is and why a certain kind of person voted for him, not that this minority of supporters exactly gave a public mandate to be wantonly corrupt. Still, it must be admitted that he was, in his own way, honest about his dishonesty.

Besides, it’s not like Trump is an anomaly. This is a family of corruption with a dishonorable legacy that goes back generations. Trump and his siblings, when they were still young, initially inherited money from their father, Fred Trump, as part of various illegal tax evasion schemes. And this continued into the 1990s (David Barstow, Susanne Craig & Russ Buettner, Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father). Their wealth was built on real estate and construction in New York City, but it was initially accumulated by the grandfather, Friedrich Trumpf, who made his first fortune by running an illegal brothel during the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon. It was in New York City, though, that the family more fully got involved in corruption and criminality. That place was infamous for its machine politics that was well oiled with bribery, kickbacks, and graft; cronyism, favoritism, and nepotism.

The Trump family fit in perfectly well. New York City politics and big biz was enmeshed in Tammany Hall, along with boroughs and municipalities run like fiefdoms, not to mention powerful organized crime that controlled the construction industry. One didn’t become a wealthy businessman, particularly in real estate, in that climate without being a criminal and working with criminals. The evidence points to both Donald and Fred having bought politicians. This behavior became far darker as Donald began working closely with the local mafia, such as laundering money, a practice that he did with foreign organized crime as well. There was also mortgage fraud and much else that ties him to the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of the closest cronies of the Trump family. This corruption was later joined with that of Jared Kushner’s family by way of marriage to Ivanka Trump.

That decadent culture of open corruption is probably why Trump is so cavalier about his own malbehavior, with a confidence that people like him are above the law because they have deep pockets to buy the legal outcomes they so desire. Such vast moral depravity was normalized for him in childhood when he got his first taste of American-style capitalism. It was only natural for him to continue this behavior once he formally entered politics, although he had been closely tied to the political elite his entire life. As promised, President Trump ran the country like a business and, in his experience, that means corruption by default. He doesn’t know how to run a business honestly, an alien concept to his mind.

Only part way through his term as president, there was documented 2,000 instances identified as “conflicts of interest between his business interests and his duty to the country as president” (Gretchen Frazee, Trump criticizes the Bidens, but his own family’s business raises questions). That happened in less than three years and he was only warming up. He really upped his game in this last year when he knew he was running out of time before the scam would be up and he has ended up adding more than another thousand conflicts of interest (Julia Conley, ‘An Astonishing Rate of Corruption’: Trump Has Amassed 3,000 Conflicts of Interest Since Taking Office). Also, that is only looking at the conflicts of interest, not the hundreds of other forms of corruption such as selling key political positions to private power, as seen with a tidal wave of regulatory capture. Then, on top of that, there are the near endless activities of his own family the he nepotistically inserted into power while they continued to push various family financial interests, often using their political position to ensure backing and funding or else to promote products.

So, why haven’t the Trumps been nailed for their known illegal actions? And why hasn’t Trump been impeached, as impeachment doesn’t even require proving criminality? “THE DEFENSE GOT ONE THING RIGHT at Donald Trump’s Senate trial,” writes Jim Lardner (Mapping Corruption: Donald Trump’s Executive Branch). “The case against him was thin, his team kept saying; and so it was, compared to the enormity of this administration’s other offenses.” It makes one wonder why the DNC and deep state that is portrayed as hating Trump chose such a weak case that would guaranteed he would get away without punishment. There were so many crimes that, if prosecuted, could land Trump and family in prison. The defenders of the Establishment wanted to put on a good show for the viewing public and they wanted to send the clear message to Trump that he needed to back down, but actually destroying one of the highest and most powerful of the ruling elite would set a dangerous precedent.* The weakness of that particular legal case, though, should not be taken as innocence, as Lardner makes clear:

“Set aside the hate-mongering and the stream of conspiracy theories and demagogic bombast. Trump has sowed corruption of a breadth and brazenness unseen in the far-from-innocent annals of our nation’s history. In three years as president, he has transformed the executive branch into a giant favor factory, populated with the agents or willing partners of virtually every special interest. Add up all the routine, daily outrages—the quasi-bribery and quasi-extortion, the private raids on public funds, the handouts to the undeserving, the massive flow of cash, jobs, and freebies back in return—and Trump’s attempt to squeeze a little re-election help out of the fragile government of a desperate Eastern European country does not loom particularly large in the reckoning.

“Adding it all up is a challenge, though. It’s hard to fathom the depths of the kleptocracy when there’s so much happening on the surface to divert us. The corruption most directly in our faces involves the looting and skimming and self-dealing of the president and his family. Our first hotel-owning president has inspired a parade of foreign diplomats and domestic lobbyists to pay tribute with overnight stays that are functionally indistinguishable from bribes. The Secret Service has blown over half a million dollars on golf carts protecting a leader who has spent nearly one out of every three days of his first term at one of his resort properties, which get free advertising on top of the revenue from lodging his guards and retinue. Ivanka Trump snags a valuable set of Chinese trademarks on the same day she dines with Xi Jinping. Kellyanne Conway hawks Ivanka’s products in TV interviews.

“But the personal corruption of the Trumps themselves perversely masks the sliminess perpetrated by literally thousands of presidential appointees, from Cabinet officials to obscure functionaries. Amid all the distractions, it’s hard to focus on the more consequential crookedness and follow out the plotlines of all the sordid stories, and grasp the brutal consequences visited upon countless people. We lunge from scandal to scandal without ever filling in the bigger picture, or taking proper account of all the knaves, thieves, and corporate stooges and their handiwork.”

Trump was never going to drain the swamp, no more than Trump’s cronies in D.C. were going to take down Trump. Here is the difference that is offered to the American public, typically framed as ‘lesser evilism’. The Trumps will punch you in the face and kick you in the balls to get what they want and then walk away with piles of money, whereas the Clintons will put a friendly arm on your shoulder and look you in the eyes as they slip a hand into your back pocket (maybe while starting another war to profit the military-industrial complex, a war that the corporate media won’t report on). Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

With Trump as patriarchal mob boss, the blatant thievery and thuggery is the supposed ‘honesty’ that Trump supporters so adore. This administration’s corruption has become so bold that it defies any need to be hidden, any pretenses of respectability. It might not be long before other politicians follow the example of the Trumps, as the entire elite loses all shame and fear. Then it will be normalized and full-on fascism can begin. This means that the equivalent of Manafort and the Podesta brothers could operate out in the open where eventually not even Federal investigators might be able to touch them.

All of that said, in the end, is Trump’s misbehavior really worse than the decades of conniving that built the American Empire in the first place such that it could be taken over by someone like Trump? The American ruling elite have been undermining democracy and overthrowing democratic governments for more than a century. Are we surprised that democracy here at home has suffered in our being publicly shamed on the international stage by Trump’s buffoonery? When Democrats had the presidency and majority control, did they constrain executive power according to the Constitution, instead of expanding it further? Of course not. We never would have had a Trump presidency without the Clinton dynasty and the Bush dynasty, without the systemic moral rot of administration after administration.

So, here we are. President elect Joe Biden will cobble the pieces back together, smooth over the threatening fractures, make the American Empire respectable again. This will inevitably fail in the long run, as democratic reform can only be delayed for so long before something else forces change. The corruption will continue to get worse, as will the public outrage. Next up might be a truly competent dictator, maybe sooner than some expect. Then Democrats will speak nostalgically of the Trump era when things weren’t so bad.

* * *

* Then again, some argue that, once the Trump family is out of power, they could become less protected from a deep state that may perceive them as having gone too far and so potentially could use them to set an example to keep the rest of the oligarchy in line. And the other oligarchs might not feel forgiving toward the Trumps in having threatened the Establishment with dangerous political games. Even the most horrific of crimes can be tolerated, as long as they are in defense of power itself. Trump’s presidency, instead, has left that system of power in shambles and that harms the interests and agendas of many people who otherwise would be extremely tolerant of the shenanigans of someone like Donald Trump. This plutocratic family might find it’s luck has run out.

“Trump is more vulnerable to prosecution,” Jon Schwarz explains, “than other presidents because he’s engaged in so many potential nontraditional presidential crimes. With the invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush committed what the Nuremberg trials referred to as “the supreme international crime” of initiating a war of aggression. But there was never any chance that he’d be punished for this, because the entire U.S. power structure agrees that American presidents have the right to do it. Same for conducting thousands of drone strikes or torturing people around the globe. By contrast, Trump has engaged in many comparatively small, shabby, possible criminal activities outside of his presidential duties” (Losing Could Expose Trump To Prosecution For Any Number of Crimes).

This probably won’t happen. But it could. No president has ever attacked the deep state before, even if it was merely political theater. The deep state doesn’t like to be forced out into the open through involvement in partisan fights and campaign rhetoric. Donald Trump is no Richard Nixon who will shrink away into the shadows after being ousted from power. And in finding his entire family having gained the status of pariah, Trump’s antics as an attention whore could get worse. Various actors in the Establishment might decide that it will need to fully and finally put the uncouth Trump clan back into its place. If the Trumps fight back, they might just make it worse and force empty threats to become real prosecutions. They’d be wise to tread lightly until events cool back down. Those in power would prefer that Trump simply concede power and just go away.

* * *

As the main target of hatred for nearly the entire political right, along with more than a few on the political left, there has been decades of criticism, analysis, and investigations about the Clintons and their cronies; not to mention the endless conspiracy theories. But now the Trump dynasty is in the spotlight. For those interested, there has been an unsurprising increase of investigating reporting on the details of depravity for this scandalous family:

Biden’s Corruption and Dementia

“Will the Senate investigate Joe and Hunter Biden’s actions in China and Ukraine? We don’t know, but they should. If a two-year investigation of President Trump, Russia and the Trump family was justified to ensure the president isn’t compromised, an investigation into Joe Biden, China, Ukraine and the Biden family is imperative.”
~Peter Schweitzer, Secret Empires *

“It is certainly understandable that people are concerned about the presidential frontrunner having a racist worldview. But what’s really weird and creepy is how few people are discussing the obvious fact that the presidential forerunner is also clearly suffering from the early stages of some kind of dementia. The brain that spouted the gibberish transcribed above would probably score poorly on a basic test for the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, yet discussion of his inability to complete a coherent sentence is relegated to the margins of political discourse. This is someone who is campaigning to have access to the nuclear codes, yet we’re only talking about how he’s kind of racist and not about the fact that his brain is turning into Swiss cheese right before our eyes. It’s freaky.”
~Caitlin Johnstone **

* quoted by Patrice Aymes, Biden Family Corruption: So Common A Thing Democrats & Their Pluto Media Didn’t Notice

** from Open Society blog, Biden’s Brain Is Swiss Cheese and It’s Creepy How Much We’re Not Talking About It

What is the IRS ‘scandal’ about?

An Almost-Final Word On The IRS’s Alleged Tea Party Targeting

This all goes back to the scrutiny the IRS gave to politically active “social welfare” organizations between 2010 and 2013. Conservatives allege that mainly Tea Party groups were targeted. The controversy led to a housecleaning at the top of the IRS — also, to a collapse in the agency’s already feeble attempts to enforce its existing rules on political activity by 501(c)(4) social welfare groups.

The numbers and budgets of politically active social welfare groups have soared since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, especially among conservatives. SuperPACs, which are also used by both sides, must disclose their donors, while 501(c)(4) groups have no disclosure requirement.

Facebook, the IRS, and the GOP’s Bullshit Feedback Loop

In reality, the IRS “scandal” was the unhappy byproduct of an agency being tasked with determining the validity of claims to non-profit status, but lacking the proper resources to do it or clear guidance on how. The fact that new Tea Party groups, many with dubious claim to non-profit status, had flooded the IRS with applications compounded the difficulty. The agency thus used watchwords like “tea party” and “progressive” to, in its words, triage the workload.

For the purposes of ginning up voters, that story is much less useful than one in which a liberal agency leader masterminded a sabotage campaign against patriotic conservatives trying to rescue the country from Obama. And so the IRS scandal was born.

Report On IRS Targeting Of Conservatives – No Christmas Pony For Darrell Issa

Now if both sides were doing it equally, it would be possible for the IRS to approach the matter in an even handed manner. As it turns out, unlike the remarkably similar activities of the Kriegsmarine U-boats in the Atlantic and the US Navy submarines in the Pacific, “dark money” is more of a conservative thing . According to Open Secrets in the 2010 election cycle conservative non-disclosure spending was $119.9 million and liberal non-disclosure spending was $10.7 million. In the 2012 election cycle it was $265.5 million conservative versus $33,6 million liberal. The gap starts closing in 2014 but remains wide with $192.8 million conservative and $54 million liberal.

That makes it impossible for IRS action or non-action to not have political effect. Now if we had really wise leaders, they would have gotten together and said that the country needs good tax administration and the Republicans would have agreed to ease up on pushing the envelope so much and the Democrats would not have pressed the IRS to worry so much about a matter that was not contributing to the tax gap. Probably too much to ask for. Instead we’ve got “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

New Records: IRS Targeted Progressive Groups More Extensively Than Tea Party

A series of IRS documents, provided to ThinkProgress under the Freedom of Information Act, appears to contradict the claims by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that only Tea Party organizations applying for tax-exempt status “received systematic scrutiny because of their political beliefs.” The 22 “Be On the Look Out” keywords lists, distributed to staff reviewing applications between August 12, 2010 and April 19, 2013, included more explicit references to progressive groups, ACORN successors, and medical marijuana organizations than to Tea Party entities.

Donna Brazile: No conspiracy here, IRS targeted liberals, too

In fact, a few months after the story of the report broke, new documents came to light showing more of the extent of scrutiny of progressive groups. At the time, Alex Seitz-Wald described the landscape this way.

But now, almost two months later, we know that in fact the IRS targeted lots of different kinds of groups, not just conservative ones; that the only organizations whose tax-exempt statuses were actually denied were progressive ones; that many of the targeted conservative groups legitimately crossed the line; that the IG’s report was limited to only Tea Party groups at congressional Republicans’ request; and that the White House was in no way involved in the targeting and didn’t even know about it until shortly before the public did.

Needless to say, especially disturbing is the idea that Issa conveyed to the IG his wish that the investigation focus on conservative groups to the exclusion of progressive ones. The IG later said that initial report was inaccurate, but he didn’t say what was inaccurate about it or offer any explanation of why his spokesperson would have said Issa told them to produce a one-sided report.

New Documents Show the IRS Targeted ‘Progressive’ and ‘Tea Party’ Groups for Extra Scrutiny

Arguably, ThinkProgress’s report implies, the IRS focused on giving extra scrutiny to groups on the left longer than it did to groups on the right, Issa’s colleagues across the aisle on the Oversight Committee have long noted that Issa has yet to produce evidence supporting his repeated claims that the IRS was acting as part of an anti-GOP political conspiracy. These documents, which ThinkProgress notes were also produced for “investigating congressional committees,” are certainly not that evidence. Here’s a list of some of the groups that show up on the full BOLO watch lists (viewable here):

  • “Progressive” groups, especially those with words like “blue” in the name
  • “Tea Party” groups
  • Not exclusively educational “medical marijuana” groups
  • Groups believed to be “successors to ACORN”
  • “Open source software” organizations
  • “Green energy” organizations
  • “Occupied territory” advocacy organizations

On the “emerging” section on one of the distributed lists, the BOLO lists contains this downright bipartisan warning:

Political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution and bill of rights, Social economic reform/movement

Anyway, Issa already has a response to that non-specific language. The political watch list language was “changed to broader ‘political advocacy organizations,’” he wrote in a committee report, adding that he believes “the IRS still intended to identify and single out Tea Party applications for scrutiny.” Even though it looks like progressive groups may have ended up on the watch list before the Tea Party started popping up.

Senate Report Confirms That Republicans Lied About The IRS Only Targeting Conservatives

A newly released report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations confirms that both liberal and conservatives groups received the same bad treatment and were targeted by the IRS. In short, Republicans lied about the IRS only targeting conservatives.

The Executive Summary section of the report put the Republican IRS conspiracy down for the count,

The Subcommittee investigation has reached many of the same conclusions as the TIGTA audit of the 501(c)(4) application process. The Subcommittee investigation found that the IRS used inappropriate screening criteria when it flagged for increased scrutiny applications based upon the applicants’ names or political views rather than direct evidence of their involvement with campaign activities. The Subcommittee investigation also found significant program mismanagement, including years-long delays in processing 501(c)(4) applications; inappropriate, intrusive, and burdensome questioning of groups; and poor communication and coordination between IRS officials in Washington and Cincinnati. At the same time, like TIGTA, the Subcommittee investigation found no evidence of IRS political bias in selecting 501(c)(4) applications for heightened review, as distinguished from using poor judgment in crafting the selection criteria. Based on investigative work that went beyond what TIGTA examined, the Subcommittee investigation also determined that the same problems affected IRS review of 501(c)(4) applications filed by liberal groups.

In addition, the Subcommittee investigation found that, by focusing exclusively on how the IRS handled 501(c)(4) applications filed by conservative groups and excluding any comparative data on applications filed by liberal groups, the TIGTA audit produced distorted audit results that continue to be misinterpreted. The TIGTA audit engagement letter stated that the audit’s “overall objective” was to examine the “consistency” of IRS actions in identifying and reviewing 501(c)(4) applications, including whether “conservative groups” experienced “inconsistent treatment.” Instead, the audit focused solely on IRS treatment of conservative groups, and omitted any mention of other groups. For example, while the TIGTA report criticized the IRS for using “Tea Party,” “9/12,” and “Patriot” to identify applications filed by conservative groups, it left out that the IRS also used “Progressive,” “ACORN,” “Emerge,” and “Occupy” to identify applications filed by liberal groups. While the TIGTA report criticized the IRS for subjecting conservative groups to delays, burdensome questions, and mismanagement, it failed to disclose that the IRS subjected liberal groups to the same treatment. The result was that when the TIGTA audit report presented data showing conservative groups were treated inappropriately, it was interpreted to mean conservative groups were handled differently and less favorably than liberal groups, when in fact, both groups experienced the same mistreatment. By excluding any analysis of how liberal groups were handled and failing to provide critical context for its findings, the TIGTA audit inaccurately and unfairly damaged public confidence in the impartiality of the IRS.

So IRS Didn’t ‘Target Conservative Groups,’ After All

It turns out that the IRS really was just doing its job — scrutinizing all kinds of groups applying for special tax status, not “targeting conservatives” as has been widely reported. Of course anti-government scandal-mongers are trying to make this sound bad, saying this means the “targeting” was “broader” than first thought. That’s like saying people are “targeted” to pay their taxes on April 15. Anyway the “scandal’s” purpose was achieved: the IRS is going to give corporate-funded political groups a pass now and let them “self-certify” that they aren’t breaking the rules. […]

But the truth doesn’t matter. The fact that there was no “targeting of conservative groups” doesn’t mean that conservatives don’t get their way. Even though the whole “ACORN scandal” turned out to just be a lie, Congress defunded ACORN anyway. Van Jones and Shirley Sherrod were both fired after right-wing media launched smear and lie campaigns. And this time the administration immediately caved to the right and fired the head of the IRS. This of course amplified the right’s “targeted conservatives” accusations and whipped the media into a full-blown scandal frenzy.

And the clincher: the IRS has issued new rules, offering corporate-funded political groups a “fast track” to getting their special tax status.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy explains, in IRS Offers Fast-Track for Advocacy Groups Awaiting Tax Exemptions. All they have to do is self-certify that they won’t break the rules, and Bob’s your uncle.

Organizations that have applied to the IRS for status as social-welfare groups but have faced inordinate delays because of the political scrutiny that engulfed the tax agency in controversy now have recourse: They can win tax-exempt status within two weeks if they pledge not to devote more than 40 percent of their time and money to partisan activities.

The IRS announced the streamlined process on Monday as part of its 83-page report, shown below, on how the agency is overhauling its process for reviewing applications for tax-exempt status. By setting the 40-percent marker, the organization for the first time was explicit about how much advocacy is acceptable for a group that has 501(c)(4) status.

So they win.

House Republicans pretend IRS ‘scandal’ still exists

Just so we’re clear, these House Republicans still haven’t uncovered any evidence of official wrongdoing, and they didn’t accuse Koskinen of having any role in “targeting” anyone. Rather, the GOP lawmakers are convinced Koskinen hasn’t done enough to help them find evidence to substantiate allegations that fell apart two years ago.

Or put another way, they want to fire the IRS guy who replaced the other IRS guy who was fired over a “scandal” that never really existed in the first place.

There is, of course, no reason to believe Koskinen’s job is in jeopardy, which is probably why House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) raised the prospect of holding the IRS commissioner in contempt of Congress, because, well, why not? It’s been months since House Republicans held an Obama administration official in contempt of Congress, they’re arguably overdue.

Fox News’ phony scandal: The truth about the fictional “plot” to suppress conservatives

Absent campaign-finance law, and with a deadlocked Federal Election Commission incapable of acting, the IRS was the last defense against opaque and unrestricted political money. Yet as Republicans in Congress blocked efforts to address campaign-finance transparency, nonprofits were inundating the IRS with applications for tax-exempt status, many for social-welfare groups. And media outlets were focused on “Tea Party” groups forming around the country.

Against this backdrop, one IRS case manager in the Los Angeles office forwarded an application to the agency’s Cincinnati office for review, expressing concern that the organization applying for nonprofit status was not being established for social-welfare purposes, but instead for political campaign activity. The Cincinnati office, which oversees nonprofit applications, agreed to review the case.

That questionable applicant was a Tea Party group, whose application triggered the reviewer’s concern over its involvement with direct campaign activity relating to specific candidates.

As applications stacked up, the IRS identified areas with potential for abuse, and began to flag applications that followed a similar format, issuing a “BOLO” (Be On the Lookout) alert for new applications with similar features or organizations with similar names.

Throughout 2010 and 2011, the IRS continued to wrestle with how it should handle these organizations in general (and Tea Party applications in particular), while the agency faced mounting pressure from House and Senate investigative committees concerning tax-exempt organizations and donor identities. Tea Party applications were particularly problematic, because the term “Tea Party” was identified with groups backing specific candidates or opposing the policies of the Obama administration.

Such activities are not covered by the “primary purpose” rule applicable to social-welfare groups, which restricts tax exemption (and freedom from disclosure requirements) to organizations that “operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.”

In September 2010, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) wrote to then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, asking him to conduct a survey of major 501(c)(4), (c)(5), and (c)(6) organizations involved in political campaign activity to see whether they were in compliance with the “primary purpose” rule. He also requested that the IRS look at whether the organizations “were acting as conduits for major donors advancing their own private interests regarding legislation or political campaigns.”

In 2012, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) made a formal request for the IRS to produce specific information on the activity of several high-profile organizations, including Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, the liberal group Priorities USA, Americans for Prosperity, and Patriot Majority USA. As dark money spending increased in 2012, Levin pressed harder, criticizing the IRS decision to interpret the word “exclusively” to promote social welfare as “more than 50 percent” of the organization’s activity. He wanted to know how many tax exemptions had been audited to see if organizations engaged in excessive political activity.

After the 2012 elections, the IRS found itself caught between mounting pressure from Congressional Democrats and from groups receiving information requests from the IRS but no letters approving their tax-exempt status. The agency was requesting that applicants provide all donors’ names and addresses (presumably to satisfy the Baucus inquiry), sparking outrage among conservative groups asked for that information.

UNBRIDLED FREEDOM

At the same time, Congressional Republicans began to hear from big donors who were concerned about the loss of anonymity—and the tax deductions that some of the nonprofits provided. And from “grass roots” groups impatient with the IRS.

One of these groups was KSP/True the Vote, a Texas-based voter-integrity organization originally known as the King Street Patriots—one of the nonprofit applicants selected by the IRS for closer scrutiny, based upon its application and media reports in 2010 in which KSP/True the Vote activists were accused of intimidating voters at the polls.

In 2010, acting under the name King Street Patriots, conservative Texas activist Catherine Engelbrecht accused a voter-registration group, Houston Votes, of being “the New Black Panthers office” in Texas. Claiming to have found thousands of fraudulent voter registrations in the Houston area, Engelbrecht appeared on Fox News, accusing Houston Votes of massive voter fraud. The King Street Patriots also produced a video that warned: “Our elections are being manipulated by the RADICAL LEFT.” Backed by an ominous soundtrack, the video also included a doctored image of an African American holding a sign that read: “I only got to vote once.”

Ironically, one documented case of voter fraud surfaced in Texas in 2010 when County Commissioner candidate Bruce Fleming, who had been endorsed by Engelbrecht, was found to have cast votes in Pennsylvania and Texas in the 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections, boasting that he “had the chance to vote twice against Barack Obama.”

Indeed, KSP/True the Vote’s literature established that they were operating for campaign purposes, as evidenced by a self-published “Legislative Agenda for Texas” in 2011 and their lobbying for stricter voter-ID laws. The state Democratic Party sued, and in 2011 a Texas court ruled that the King Street Patriots was a PAC and not a nonprofit group. The group was ordered to reveal its donors and pay Houston Votes a substantial settlement.

Despite the court ruling and extensive news coverage, when news broke on May 9, 2013, that the IRS may have singled out conservative groups for scrutiny, Engelbrecht was prepared. On May 21, KSP/True the Vote filed a federal lawsuit against the IRS for targeting them. The suit was dismissed in late 2014.

Mechanical Spider Legs and Progressive Reform

Did you see this article about FDR?

Report: White House Officials Deliberately Hid FDR’s Mechanical Spider Legs From Public

It does explain a lot. I always wondered why public photos of him never showed his legs.

On a happier note, here are some thoughts about the coming future, when mechanical spider legs will no longer need to be attached to humans.

‘Rise of the Robots’ and ‘Shadow Work’

One of the jobs that hasn’t been mechanized yet is that of torturer. But with Poland being held accountable, let’s hope it won’t be a growing job sector.

With US Accountability MIA, Poland to Make Payout for Torture of CIA

That article points out how the US government officials aren’t being held accountable for their own actions. That isn’t just true internationally, but also nationally. The US government isn’t accountable to American voters anymore than it is accountable to international courts.

Study: Congress literally doesn’t care what you think

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change. – The Boston Globe

A major reason for this is big money. The US government has big money (funding a big military—and increasingly militarized police—along with helping to fund a big defense industry) and, of course, American politicians are beholden to big money (including from that defense industry), a cozy corporatist collusion. Besides indirect bribes (beyond just campaign money) and unofficial kickbacks (via no-bid contracts and below-market-value of natural resources from public lands), there are also direct subsidies to corporations and banks.

US taxpayers subsidising world’s biggest fossil fuel companies

U.S. Taxpayers Subsidizing World’s Biggest Fossil Fuel Companies

Why Should Taxpayers Give Big Banks $83 Billion a Year?

Top Banking Analyst: Subsidies to Giant Banks Exceed $780 Billion Dollars Per YEAR

Big Banks Have Raked In $102 Billion In Subsidies Since 2009: Report

A related aspect is that of the climate change debate. People are always arguing over who is getting funded how much and who is doing the funding. Interestingly, many of the same big energy sources that fund political campaigning also fund the opponents of the scientific consensus, from funding think tanks to funding scientists. No matter how much money climatology researchers get, they can’t use that money for lobbying and campaign donations, as does big energy.

Accusations that climate science is money-driven reveal ignorance of how science is done

Not just the Koch brothers: New study reveals funders behind the climate change denial effort

Graphs of Science Funding

It’s obviously a complex issue, but one has to wonder what are the end results of all that money. Even the money that goes to research, is the issue really a lack of enough data to know we have a problem to deal with? I doubt it.

Big money corruption is a non-partisan issue, not that you’d realize that from the mainstream media. It has been a central concern of both the Tea Party and the Occupiers. In general, it has been a growing concern of all Americans. A movement is forming and those involved, individually and collectively, are demanding to be taken seriously. In some cases, concerned citizens are going to extremes in their attempt to get heard.

Can the Gyrocopter Gang Start a Political Reform Movement?

Much of the organizing is grassroots and the changes are starting at the local level. Just recently, the county I live in issued a resolution and so joined the ranks of a growing number of local governments across the country, in both red and blue areas.

County supervisors call for Constitutional amendment – The Daily Iowan

Now, we just need a president who is even half the man FDR was and apparently he himself was already half machine. Maybe having mechanical spider legs gives someone the courage to face down the fascists and oligarchs in order to demand progressive reform.

Strange Power Tricks

Here are two videos that I appreciated. I have no commentary to add… just wanted to share. The first is partly a response to the second.

And here are a couple of comments that I liked from the comments section of the second video:

zudthespud

changing the law to make your opponents unelectable is how democracy turns to dictatorship…

To quote a Rise Against song: “If we’re the flagship of hope and prosperity, we’re taking on water and about to fucking sink”

rocky19421

Only five states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows:

South Carolina -50th

North Carolina -49th

Georgia -48th

Texas -47th,

Virginia -44th.

Wisconsin is ranked #2 in the nation.

Republican s do not want an educated electorate .

Incompetence, graft in Brewer’s AZ private prisons, links to Abu Ghraib

I’ve many times complained about the sorry state of journalism. What often goes for journalism these days is whatever Fox News does with its fake scandals: Take highly edited videos and keep playing them until the rest of the media jumps on the bandwagon.

I’m glad to be proved wrong in my suspicion that real investigative journalism died long ago. Along with Wikileaks, the Rachel Maddow show puts out reporting that actually informs the public. It’s quite amazing because the following story is about Arizona which has been in the news more than almost anything else and yet no one else in the media had connected the dots.

(As a note, I think it’s important to point out that Rachel Maddow, like Wikileaks, is part of the New Media. Even though she is now on MSNBC, she began her career on Air America. It’s similar to MSNBC having hired Cenk Uygur who is one of the big names in New Media. It seems MSNBC is trying to bring New Media into the mainstream.)

US Politicians For Sale?

This is why Washington politics is corrupt and why it will forever remain corrupt.

Also, understand that even Ron Paul who complains about Washington himself is a Washington politician who accepts corporate money and who accepts earmarks for his state. If Ron Paul left politics, I’m sure he could find a lobbyist job.

No one, not even Ron Paul, gets into Washington and stays there without playing the game. All politicians are corrupt. Some politicians may be less corrupt, but still all are corrupt. No real libertarian or real liberal will ever be elected as president. Corporations own the government and we are all indentured servants of our capitalist overlords.

Politicians don’t represent the voter. Politicians work for corporations. The corruption in Washington politics is merely a symptom of the disease that is capitalism. The tiny fraction of a percentage of the world’s population who are the powerful elite own almost all the wealth, almost all the land, almost all the media, almost all the corporations.

We live in a Banana Republic. Politics is just the theatre that capitalists put on to keep the masses distracted, to keep the poor working class from revolting. Bread and Circus. Enjoy the show!