The Jetzon’s Self Driving Auto Car Drone Aint Here Yet

1376873104000-xxx-future-1

History shows again and again
How nature points out the folly of men.

Yeah, truer words never spoken. Even if in relation to Godzilla. And you can apply that to the relentlessly ballyhooed “autonomous driving automobiles”.

Seriously, this stuff is Henny Youngman type of slapsick comedy. It ain’t happening.

Okay, I am cribbing from Atrios, but dammit, what the hell do you think us conspiracy propagators are supposed to do??

I’m just saying these cars won’t ever (in our lifetimes – sure, eventually the singularity might arrive) really work as hyped and certainly don’t deserve all of the press they’re getting. I also don’t think that even if they did work they’d be a big improvement for all (some) of the reasons people think they will be, but those are more debatable issues which I rarely bother to debate because the fact is the things aren’t going to work. Okay, I’ll define “work.” Basically, you have to be able to tune out 100% over 90% of the time. I’ll even allow for a “last mile” kind of “time for you to drive” thing as long as the rest of the time you can kick back and read your book or whatever. Because if you have to pay attention but usually not doing anything, what’s the point? It’s just better cruise control. A neat feature for some, but nothing more than that.

Ya. I am sure that all of you out there driving their Tesla 3’s will squawk [oh, wait, they are not out yet!]. As I am sure all of you on the waiting list for Tesla 3’s [good luck with that!] that is already years behind technical and production capability at Tesla are oh so defensive of the giant Elon Musk dream. Surely the dream will catch up to reality, it must!

Also, the supertrains between Los Angeles and San Francisco (okay, forget the “cheaper” stuff, that was a joke!) and between New York and Washington DC are totally gonna be ready to roll after New Year’s Eve.

When the candidates talk about their totally awesome “infrastructure and jobs” proposals, maybe ask what the hell they are talking about. Because it is probably bullshit. Hold them to it.

Third Presidential Debate — Open Thread

This is an open thread for the third presidential debate between major party candidates. It’s open to topics related to the debate topics and questions; let’s avoid other topics like sports or food, etc., unless they relate directly to the candidates.

Debate location: University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada

Time: 9:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. EDT (Nevada, however, is in MDT.)

Debate moderators: Chris Wallace, Fox News

Participants: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (Gary Johnson and Jill Stein did not qualify per Commission on Presidential Debates which organizes these events.)

The format for this debate is the same as the first presidential debate. A 15-minute segment will be dedicated to each of six questions posited by the moderator. Each candidate will have two minutes to respond to each question, with a short rebuttal allotted to each candidate. The moderator will use the balance of time to flesh out additional discussion on the topics.

It’s rumored Trump will try another ‘nuclear winter’ move by inviting guests whose presence may ruffle Clinton. His effort last debate — bringing women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault to a panel before and outside of the debate — didn’t appear as effective as he would like. Will he indulge in other threatening body language as he did during the second debate?

Other rumors suggest Clinton may invite members of the Central Park Five to rattle Trump, but this is probably unnecessary as 1) Trump has doubled down on his stupidity about the CP5’s guilt (they were exonerated by DNA evidence), and 2) he’s easy to rattle without any third parties’ assistance.

I don’t know about you but I think I need to stock up on tequila to get through this last gasp.

Some Cops Will Stand against Grabbing Women By Their P*$$y, But Not the National Fraternal Order of Police

Since the release of the tape showing Trump bragging about “grabbing [women] by they pussy,” I’ve been far more interested in the response from cops’ unions than members of Congress. After all, the Republicans who really had a moral or ethical problem with Trump would have already distanced themselves (as some have). Anyone flipflopping now would simply be gaming the impact on their own election.

But cops? Cops are supposed to protect people from men grabbing them by their genitalia without consent. And thus far, the Fraternal Order of Police has shown no regret for their national endorsement of Trump and all he stands for (which of course includes gambling, financial trickery, racism, and some ties to the mob, on top of the explicit sexism).

I’ve been annoyingly reminding people of that on Twitter every day.

Finally, someone else is examining the issue. While I’ve been traveling, the Baltimore Sun did a piece noting that their state FOP, along with four other states and DC, actually voted against endorsing the Donald.

The story quotes FOP president, Chuck Canterbury, explaining that they endorsed because Donald claims we need “law and order” (apparently Canterbury is cool if everything about him defies that campaign claim).

Canterbury attributed the endorsement for Trump to the candidate’s campaigning on the need for “law and order” and on his support of law enforcement officers.

It ends with contrasting quotes from Canterbury and a member of a minority police organization addressing the “pussy” comment.

Canterbury described Trump’s remarks as “crass and very inappropriate” but said that his organization likely wouldn’t weigh in “until someone comes forward to press criminal charges.”

Louis Hopson of the Vanguard Justice Society, an organization of minority police officers in Baltimore, said that other states should have followed Maryland in voting not to endorse a candidate.

“We need to make sure the commander in chief understands that sexual assault is sexual assault,” Hopson said. “Unlawful touching is a violation of the law.”

In other words, even after the release of the tape, one of the nation’s cops unions is still okay if Trump endorses sexual assault, so long as no one presses criminal charges (as opposed to the rape lawsuit currently working its way through court).

You know? “Law and order”?

Update: In a piece on NARAL’s new petition calling on the FOP to withdraw its nomination, Ryan Grim the broader discomfort among non-white cops with the endorsement.

The FOP also represents thousands of African-American police officers, many of whom have complained publicly that a largely white leadership pushed through the endorsement without getting consensus.

“At a time when we’re all trying to unite and bring the world to a calm, the last person we need is a Donald Trump,” said David Fisher, president of the greater Philadelphia chapter of the National Black Police Association. “And the last thing the police need is to hitch its wagon to a Donald Trump.”

In Latest Russian Plot, WikiLeaks Reveals Hillary Opposes ISDS

Among the emails released as part of the Podesta leaks yesterday, WikiLeaks released this one showing that, almost a year before she was making the same argument in debates with Bernie Sanders, Hillary was opposed to Investor State Dispute Settlement that is part of the Trans Pacific Partnership. (h/t Matt Stoller) ISDS is the means by which corporations have used trade agreements to operate above the domestic laws of party countries (if you haven’t read this three part series from BuzzFeed to learn about the more exotic ways business are profiting off of ISDS).

The email also appears to echo her later public concern that she had changed her mind on TPP because of KORUS.

After our last talk with HRC, we revised our letter to oppose ISDS and include her caution about South Korea.

Sure, other Podesta emails show Hillary supporting a broad region of free trade (and labor) in the Americas. But this more recent email confirms that the views she expressed in debate were more than just an attempt to counter Bernie’s anti-trade platform.

Whether or not this is newsworthy enough to justify the WL dump, it is noteworthy in light of NYT’s rather bizarre article from some weeks back suggesting that WL always sides with Putin’s goals. As I noted, the article made a really strained effort to claim that WL exposed TPP materials because it served Putin’s interests. Now, here, WL is is releasing information that makes Hillary look better on precisely that issue.

That doesn’t advance the presumed narrative of helping Trump defeat Hillary!

Then, as I noted yesterday, in spite of all the huff and puff from Kurt Eichenwald, the release of a Sid Blumenthal email used by Trump is another case where the WL release, as released, doesn’t feed the presumed goals of Putin.

Which brings me to this Shane Harris piece, which describes four different NatSec sources revealing there’s still a good deal of debate about WL’s ties to Russia.

Military and intelligence officials are convinced that WikiLeaks is an ongoing threat to U.S. national security and privacy owing to its leaks of classified documents and emails. But its precise relationship with Russia has been a subject of internal debate. Some do see the group as being in cahoots with the Kremlin. But others find that WikiLeaks is acting mainly as the beneficiary of stolen documents, not unlike a journalistic organization.

There are some funny aspects to this story. Nothing in it considers the significant evidence that WL is (and has reason to be) affirmatively anti-Hillary, which means its interests may align with Russia, even if it doesn’t take orders from Russia.

It also suggests that if the spooks can prove some tie between WL and Russia, they can spy on it as an agent of foreign power.

But those facts don’t mean WikiLeaks isn’t acting at Russia’s behest. And that’s not a trivial matter. If the United States were to determine that WikiLeaks is an agent of a foreign power, as defined in U.S. law, it could allow intelligence and law enforcement agencies to spy on the group—as they do on the Russian government. The U.S. can also bring criminal charges against foreign agents.

WL has been intimately involved in two separate charges cases of leaking-as-espionage in the US, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. The government has repeatedly told courts that it has National Security/Criminal investigations, plural, into WikiLeaks, and when pressed for details about how and whether the government is collecting on supporters and readers of WikiLeaks, the government has in part hidden those details under a b3 FOIA exemption, meaning a statute prevents disclosing it, while extraordinarily refusing to reveal what statute that is. We certainly know that FBI has used multiple informants to spy on WL and used a variety of collection methods against Jacob Appelbaum, including (according to Appelbaum) physical tails.

So there’s not only no doubt that the US government believes it can spy on WikiLeaks (which is, after all, headed by a foreigner and not a US organization), but that it already does, and has been doing for at least six years.

Perhaps Harris’ sources really mean they’ve never found a way to indict Julian Assange before, but if they can claim he’s working for Putin, then maybe they’ll overcome past problems of indicting him because it would criminalize journalism. If that’s the case, it may be shading analysis of WL, because the government would badly like a reason to shut down WL (as the comments about the direct threat to the US in the story back up).

As I’ve said before, the role of WL in this and prior leak events is a pretty complex one, one that if approached too rashly (or too sloppily) could have ramifications for other publishers. While a lot of people are rushing to collapse this (in spite of what sounds like a continuing absence of directly incriminating evidence) into a nation-state conflict, things like this TPP email suggest it’s not that simple.

Tuesday: Disinfowar Dust Up

In this roundup: Disinfowar, fossil fuels’ finale, pipeline problems, and a longish short about evolving hope.

The embedded feature video here, Dust by Ember Lab, won a number of awards last year. It’s a gritty blend of real and fantasy, and the closest thing to a American feature film with an Asian lead (there were no true feature-length films with an Asian/Asian-American lead or co-lead last year). It’s a little exposition dense, but this is integral to the challenge of world-building for a sci-fi/fantasy story. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see this story extended into a true feature or a series.

Disinfowar
If you haven’t already read Marcy’s latest piece today, you should do so soon. We are now deep in disinfo slung by multiple parties.

The one thing that niggles at me about WikiLeaks’ involvement in this latest volley of disinfo: why didn’t WikiLeaks release the Podesta emails when they originally said they were going to do so?

Or was skanky political operative Roger Stone blowing more disinfo out his ass when he tweeted about the impending Wikileaks’ release?

And how does the concurrent “Trump pussy grab” video story interleave with the WikiLeaks’ disinformation? Let’s take a look at the timing.

Early September — WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange claims to have documents damaging to Hillary Clinton which would be released before the election.

30-SEP-2016 Friday — WikiLeaks cancels release of an info dump on Hillary Clinton due to alleged security concerns. The info dump has been framed by some as a potential ‘October surprise’.

02-OCT-2016 Sunday — 12:52 am: Roger Stone tweets [email protected] is done”.

03-OCT-2016 Monday — Unspecified time: Producer at an NBC entertainment outlet Access Hollywood remembers video of Trump with Billy Bush.

03-OCT-2016 Monday — 5:55 pm: AP publishes story, “‘Apprentice’ cast and crew say Trump was lewd and sexist.”

04-OCT-2016 Tuesday — Date of canceled WikiLeaks’ info dump.

Midweek (no date/day given) — Access Hollywood’s executive producer Rob Silverstein and team have reviewed the video. A script is prepared for airing of video, but it will not appear Friday evening before the next presidential debate on Sunday.

05-OCT-2016 Wednesday — No WikiLeaks’ info dump.

07-OCT-2016 Friday — First thing in the morning, Access Hollywood was still working on story; an NBC source said the story “wasn’t quite finalized.”

07-OCT-2016 Friday — Noon: Washington Post’s David Farenthold asks NBC for a comment on the Trump/Billy Bush tape which had been leaked to him by unnamed source(s).

07-OCT-2016 Friday — 2-4:00 pm (approximately, exact publication time to be confirmed): Washington Post runs Farenthold’s story, “Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005.”

07-OCT-2016 Friday — 11:03 pm: WikiLeaks tweets link to “The #PodestaEmails Part 1.

09-OCT-2016 Sunday — 9:50 pm: During the second presidential debate, Wikileaks tweets, “Hillary Clinton just confirmed the authenticity of our #PodestaEmails release of her paid speeches excerpts.

10-OCT-2016 Monday — 9:36 am: WikiLeaks tweets link with “RELEASE: The #PodestaEmails part two: 2,086 new emails.

A Google Trends snapshot of key words from these two stories also tells the story. To be fair, though ‘pussy’ spiked on Friday, it’s a pretty popular internet search term (in case this had not occurred to some of our readers).

[Source: Google Trends - compare terms:'wikileaks', 'hillary', 'podesta''pussy', 'billy bush']

[Source: Google Trends – compare terms:’wikileaks'(blue), ‘hillary'(red), ‘podesta'(yellow), ‘pussy'(green), ‘billy bush'(purple) – click to expand]

Really convenient timing, no matter the validity of the content in the emails.

Wheels

  • Germany’s upper house of parliament wants combustion engine cars off the roads by 2030 (Reuters) — This is one of the most important stories so far this year: one of the largest single nation economies in the world wants to end use of gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles within its borders inside 18 years. How will this impact Volkswagen Group, the largest automaker in EU? At least VW now has impetus to move completely away from its failed passenger diesel engines. Political parties across the Bundesrat, the upper house, support ending sales of combustion engine vehicles. What next steps Germany will take is unclear as is the next possible response by the EC in Brussels.
  • VW’s CEO Matthias Mueller knew nothing about passenger diesel vehicle scandal (Reuters) — Might be plausible that Mueller didn’t know anything about VW and Bosch tweaking engine control units to defeat emissions standards since Mueller was the head of Porsche before VW Group appointed him to replace Martin Winterkorn. And we all know Porsche isn’t the first brand you’d seek when shopping for either passenger diesel vehicles or fuel efficiency.
  • Fiat Chrysler and Canadian union Unifor avoid a strike (Detroit Free Press) — The deal includes updates to two plants and a restructuring of workers’ wage scale while working around the impending demise of the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart car models. No mention of self-driving/autonomous cars in FCA’s future lineup, if any.

Pipe meets face

  • Russian facial recognition software IDs 73% of people of of million-person database (Wall Street Journal) — This application developed by startup NTechLab beat Alphabet’s facial recognition software. This gives me the fecking creeps, especially considering the countries interested in buying this software.
  • Facial recognition app failed when used at pipeline protest (Indian Country) — A Crow Creek Tribe activist found he had been ‘identified’ as a pipeline protester by facial recognition software though he had been at a family event elsewhere during the time he was alleged to participate in the protest.
  • Pipeline construction work resumes after appeals court ruling against tribes (ABC News) — In a stunningly callous move, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a decision Sunday evening — before Columbus Day, the observation which offends Native Americans — denying Native American tribes’ request for an injunction to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Work on the pipeline picked up again today, though the tribes vow to continue their protests. Protesters were arrested yesterday for trespassing, including actor Shailene Woodley. Woodley may have been selected in particular because of her high media profile and because she was streaming the protest online.

Longread: Asymmetry’s role in Trump’s rise
Worth reading NYU’s Jay Rosen on media’s inability to deal with asymmetry in the U.S. political system, and how this permitted Trump’s elevation as a presidential candidate. Personally I take issue with the concept that the “GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics.” In a two-party system where nearly half the population identifies with either one of these parties, neither of the two parties can be insurgent or an outlier.

Instead, this asymmetry — the departure from the past equivalency of either of these two major parties — results from the application of the Overton Window over decades to move nearly half the population toward a more conservative consensus. Applied too much, too often, and nearly half the population has adopted an ideology which is incompatible with the values espoused by a critical mass of this nation before the Overton Window was applied.

And the media, like meteorologists focusing on the day’s weather — is it cloudy or sunny? rain or shine? — missed the entire shift of the political climate toward fascism. Rather like the financial crisis of 2008, for that matter, when they failed to adequately look at the big picture before the entire economy went over the cliff.

That’s a wrap. Make sure you’re registered to vote as many states have deadlines today. Check in with housebound and with college students to see if they are registered and encourage use of absentee ballots where appropriate. Absentee voting has begun in some states.

Second Presidential Debate — Open Thread

This is an open thread for the second presidential debate between major party candidates. It’s open to topics related to the debate topics and questions; let’s avoid other topics like sports or food, etc., unless they relate directly to the candidates.

Debate location: Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri

Time: 9:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. EDT (Missouri, however, is in CDT.)

Debate moderators: Martha Raddatz, ABC News, and Anderson Cooper, CNN

Participants: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (Gary Johnson and Jill Stein did not qualify per Commission on Presidential Debates which organizes these events.)

The format for this debate is a town hall. I have no idea as I type this what questions will be put to the candidates.

Or I should say I can only imagine a couple questions the moderators may ask based on the release of a certain audiotape on Friday.

ADDER: Looks like Trump has gone nuclear winter on Clinton, having a panel in advance of the debate with Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey.

Trump Is Who He’s Always Been, And Trump Is the Epitome of the GOP; They Have To Own Him

The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold has come up with another scoop. While scraping for video clips does not seem to be Fahrenthold’s strength, like the KFile boys who bolted Buzzfeed in the middle of the night for the apparently greener pastures of CNN, this clip posted by the Washington Post is bigger than anything that has come before. It doesn’t matter if it is by weight, timing, or the clear combination of the two, it is simply huge. Game changing.

The most striking thing, however, is not that this video exists, nor that it has emerged to public view, it is that the Republican party worthies and press seem to think it is shocking. Seriously, this information, and the Donald Trump it reflects, is exactly who Donald Trump is, and has been, for decades.

Donald Trump is a once and forever informationally ignorant, self serving jackass extreme narcissist. But he has been that for decades to anybody paying attention. Trump was the leader from the start in the Republican primary, and was the easy winner of their nomination. Why? Because the votes on the ground count, much to the consternation of supposed “sane party elders”, and the votes on the ground made Trump an easy winner. He is exactly what the current Republican GOP party embodies at its heart.

Watching holier than though instant moral compasses (well oiled craven weathervanes?) like Jason Chaffetz, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Orrin Hatch and Paul Ryan squirm and proclaim their shock, like grubby kids with their hand stuck in the cookie jar, is hilarious. What convenient souls they are to suddenly have the inclination of what they have all sowed and reaped for years. They doth protest too much; Trump is them, and they are Trump.

I came home late, but still managed to hear at least two tellings of the story of how John Rhodes, Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott went down the Hill and gave the hook to Nixon when it was time, with the ideation that such a similar scene could end the Trump moment now. Those are the crazy fever dreams of people like Chris Matthews, David Gergen, Mark Halperin and the rest of the Beltway cocktail weiner gobblers.

Not gonna happen. Rhodes, Goldwater and Scott were men of a different time and more stout character. There are no analogues today. Jason Chaffetz and Mike Lee can conveniently preen and bluster all they want. It is bullshit, as it is with almost all of the rest of today’s Republican party. They do NOT get to suddenly walk away from the monster their party has spent decades creating. They own Trump, Hannity, Roger Ailes, Fox News, Breitbart and Limbaugh. It is who they are, and nobody should forget it.

The Republican party of today has relentlessly stood against women’s rights and ability to control their own bodies, equal rights and protections for LGBT citizens, fair treatment for minorities and immigrants, and the right to vote for anybody other than middle aged fat white men. The current Republican party think that they are the only “suspect class” due “equal protection”, and not the minorities, races, genders, sexual identities and other endangered classes the civil rights laws were designed to protect.

This is exactly what makes the instant kvetching in the GOP aisle over Trump last night so fatuous. It is a boatload of opportunistic self serving fraud. Not for one second should anybody accept that Trump is the sudden exception, he is unequivocally what the GOP has been growing into for years. The modern Republican party has long championed racism, bigotry and misogyny; Donald Trump is just the point of their spear. To the extent there are any “honest brokers” left in the GOP, they are still guilty of benign neglect that allowed the ugliness that is the Trumpian GOP to fester.

The GOP cannot run from Donald Trump, he is who they are now. The last minute panicked contrition of the very women blaming and shaming, racists, bigots and oligarchs that claim to speak for the GOP cannot shed the snake skin of who they are, and what they have created.

Oh, and by the way, the fever dreams of the Chris Matthews and Mark Halperins of the pearl clutching Beltway set are not going to get their wish. It is too late for Trump to be replaced on the ballot by the grand poohbahs of the GOP. As election litigator extraordinaire Marc Elias points out, the ballots for the military and overseas voters have already been sent out pursuant to the UOCAVA, i.e. the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. Locally, the Arizona ballots are putatively at the printers and being mailed out within five days. Many other states are either on that timetable or ahead of it. In short, the voting has begun. The die is cast.

Also, via Philip Bump and Dave Weigel of the Washington Post:

More than 34,000 Republican voters have already cast their ballots for the 2016 general election according to the U.S. Election Project, 8,000 of them in the battleground state of North Carolina and another 5,000 in Florida. Not all of those ballots were cast for Donald Trump, it’s safe to assume, but it’s more than likely that most of them were. And that, in a nutshell, is why it’s far too late for the Republican Party to dump Donald Trump from their ticket.

More from Bump, Weigel and the WaPo:

Josh Putnam, a University of Georgia lecturer and expert on the machinations of the parties, told me at the time that the rule at issue was Rule 9. Rule 9 reads:

The Republican National Committee is hereby authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President of the United States or the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, as nominated by the national convention, or the Republican National Committee may reconvene the national convention for the purpose of filling any such vacancies.

Death, declination or otherwise. No “because we want to” clause.

“Let’s be clear here: The rule is intended to fill vacancies, not to lay the groundwork for a replacement,” Putnam said. “Some have speculated that ‘otherwise’ is ambiguous. Taken out of context it is. However, under the provisions for filling vacancies, it clearly fills in any gap between death and declination (i.e.: an incapacitating illness, but one that leaves the nominee neither dead nor able to decline to run further). And that was the intention.”

Weigel and Bump are superb reporters, and put up a compelling article on a short deadline. But, when it comes to election law, there is nobody better than Rick Hasen. Rick actually contemplated this scenario back in August, over two months ago, when the switch would have been far easier than it is now with ballots already outstanding. His conclusion was that it would be beyond difficult. And that was then, much less now.

But what if the ballots stood as is, could the GOP “electors” find the unanimity to cast enough electoral votes for some person other than Trump? Hasen, at his excellent “Election Law Blog” linked to some thoughts on that effectively imaginary scenario by Ned Foley:

As I write this on Friday night October 7, there is renewed talk of GOP leadership disavowing Trump. True, Trump will still be on the ballot that we citizens cast. But suppose the GOP leadership publicly announces that it will ask GOP electors, when they meet and vote on 12/19, to cast their presidential vote for Pence. Then some GOP-leaning superPACs spend a lot money before 11/8 informing voters of this plan.

Suppose this plan is successful, insofar as it causes on Election Night, 11/8, the media to announce that GOP electors were chosen in enough states to amount to 270 Electoral College votes. Then on 12/19, the GOP electors all do as intended according to this plan: they cast their official Electoral College votes for Pence, not Trump. Pursuant to 3 U.S.C. 9-11, these electors all sign their certificates showing Pence as their choice and send the certificates to Joe Biden, as President of the Senate.

Now, someone might claim that some of these electors violated a previous pledge they made to cast their Electoral College votes for Trump. Maybe this claimant even arranges to send to Biden a separate set of Electoral College votes cast by replacement electors who were substituted because the faithless electors violated their pledge. (This move would be reminiscent of 1876.) We can assume that the claimant wouldn’t send to Biden 270+ Electoral College votes for Trump, but some number short of 270 in the hope of depriving Pence of the presidency.

What would happen when Biden receives two conflicting sets of Electoral College votes from some states, one set for Pence, and the second set for Trump?…

Long story short: There is no way out from Trump for the GOP. They are stuck, and they got there the old fashioned way: they earned it. The Republican Party cannot hide form this event or pretend it is a mistake. It is the culmination of where the Republicans have been headed since the days of Nixon and Lee Atwater. The GOP has tried to mask it with duplicitous bleating about social conservancy and family values, but the truth is out now. It is all about preservation of white bigotry and privilege, and shifting of income and wealth to oligarchs and corporations. When Trump feigned to support that, and the maintenance of women in second class subservient status, the Republican party was willing to ride that horse. Now they want off. Don’t let them.

It is time for change, and that will not, and cannot, be furthered by letting the party of bigotry, hate, misogyny and income inequality off the hook because their avatar has been exposed.. Make them own what they built and earned.

Tuesday: Open to Debate

This is an open thread for use during and after this evening’s vice presidential debate. Duke it out here, though comment policy is still in effect.

thetimesuk_foreignworkers_04oct2016The one thing which really got under my collar today: UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, and a demand to shame companies employing foreign workers by insisting these workers must be listed.

This is beyond the pale, just short of asking for badges denoting religion. I hope the financial industry takes a stick to these fascists.

“But, but the foreigners! Taking (white’s) jobs!” one may say. Right — all those financial industry jobs in London for which the UK does not seem to be educating and training enough people.  Healthcare jobs likewise, while the NHS is under pressure to cut services and reduce spending.

The answer to the lack of job opportunities for the under-educated and under-trained isn’t limiting immigrants. It’s more investment in education and training to increase the pipeline to higher paying jobs, combined with a higher minimum wage to encourage movement to jobs requiring lower skills.

Okay, have at it.

Is Trump’s $915 Million Tax Loss Connected to an Exotic Tax Shelter?

293015Guest Post by Robert J. Lord

The news is out about Donald Trump’s $915 million of tax losses.

The real question is whether those losses were real economic losses, or just a tax artifice created by a clever planner.

Real estate developers like Trump benefit tax-wise from provisions that allow them to claim losses attributable to borrowed money. But those provisions are not a complete giveaway if the borrowing ultimately is repaid.

If the borrowing is not repaid, as we know to be the case of Trump’s casino debt, the tax law generally requires the person whose debt is forgiven to recognize income, which typically erases the tax benefit of those earlier losses. Even in those situations where debt forgiveness does not result in income, the borrower’s tax attributes are reduced by the amount of debt forgiven, and unused losses are at the top of the list of those tax attributes to be trimmed.

Could Trump have figured out how to have his cake and eat it too – that is, keep his losses for tax purposes, even while being excused from having to repay the borrowed money on which those losses were based? Yes, it is possible!

One possibility is that Trump’s lenders agreed not to expressly forgive Trump’s debt, but instead to sell their rights as lender for pennies on the dollar to an individual or entity close to Trump, such that it would never be enforced. This strategy is referred to as “parking” the debt. Some tax professionals like John Hempton at Bronte Capital and commentators like Josh Marshall at TPM have speculated this is the artifice Trump and his advisors engineered to preserve Trump’s huge losses and thus shelter close to a billion of future income from tax.

Does the tax law permit the parking of debt that effectively has been forgiven? Certainly not by design. If Trump parked the debt with a close relative, the tax code would have treated it as if the debt was forgiven.

Trump could have parked the debt with someone not so closely related or with a friend, but not if had an agreement that said person would not enforce the debt. Which means he’d be at severe risk, as the person could turn on him and enforce the debt. That would have been almost a billion dollar risk. It is hard to imagine Trump, his accountants and attorneys permitting that.

Could Trump have parked the debt with a corporation, trust or partnership he controlled? In a word, yes. Congress tried to prevent debtors from circumventing the law this way as well, but they inadvertently created a small crack in the law, which Trump just may have been able to squeeze through.

The tax code expressly identifies corporations, partnerships and trusts deemed too close to a debtor to purchase his debt without causing the debt to be deemed forgiven for tax purposes. Those rules were well written. After they were written, however, and not long before Trump faced his financial difficulties, Congress created a new type of entity for tax purposes only, the “real estate mortgage investment conduit,” or REMIC. Those rules state, in no uncertain terms, that certain partnerships, corporations and trusts become something else for tax purposes. They are expressly NOT to be treated as partnerships, corporations or trusts. Thus, unwittingly, Congress created a gaping yet little noticed hole in the rules that prevent parking debt with a controlled corporation, trust or partnership.

And Trump may have seized on Congress’ mistake.

The REMIC rules were enacted in 1986 to facilitate investment in mortgage-backed securities (yes, those securities that crashed the economy in 2008). A REMIC is a partnership, corporation or trust under the law of the state in which it is formed (usually, Delaware) that holds almost exclusively interests in mortgage debt, and satisfies a few additional statutory requirements related to the type of ownership interests (for example, corporate stock, partnership interests, or beneficial interests in a trust) it issues.

Congress anticipated that REMICs would hold entire pools of mortgage interests, but never specified a minimum number, which means a REMIC might hold only one mortgage – for example, the mortgage on a Trump casino – and still qualify. Or it could be multiple similar obligations.

A few clever tax lawyers realized that by qualifying a partnership, corporation or trust as a bastardized form of REMIC, they could circumvent the rules that prevent the parking of debt with a controlled entity to avoid debt forgiveness income.

Trump’s situation quite clearly lent itself to this exotic strategy. If he used a REMIC he controlled to purchase the mortgage debt on one or more of his casinos (and/or other properties) at a deep discount, the rules that prevent debt parking would not have applied to him.

The bottom line: Trump indeed could have used a debt parking strategy to preserve close to a billion dollars in losses for tax purposes even though he avoided the economic loss on which those tax losses were based.

Did Trump employ this strategy? Nobody knows yet, but it would explain why those losses still showed up on his tax return in 1995 and how he gamed the system for an enormous tax windfall.

The secretive and shady nature of whatever avoidance scheme Trump has used, which would clearly be on the edge of legality, even if putatively legal as Trump claims, would also very easily explain why Trump steadfastly refuses to make public any more of his tax return information.

It is also exactly why the public is entitled to see his convoluted machinations and judge for themselves his honesty. And, remember, all statutes of limitation, both criminal and civil, have long ago expired as to the 1995 and surrounding years tax returns. There is no legitimate reason whatsoever Trump cannot release them. Other than fear that what he is hiding is exposed.

Robert J. Lord, a tax lawyer and former Congressional candidate, is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Bob previously served as an adjunct faculty member at the Arizona State University School of Law. Bob’s work focuses on the relationship of tax law to inequality. He contributes to both the Inequality.org website and to OtherWords, the Institute’s national syndicated editorial service. Bob also is a staff member at Blog For Arizona, the leading political blog in Arizona.

Trump Charity A Continuing Fraud On The People Of New York

scammer419One of the items of breaking news (no, really!) over the last 24 hours is the cease and desist order issued by the New York Attorney General’s Office to Donald Trump’s vaunted “charity”. The full text of the official letter can be found here.

The New York Times described it thusly:

The office of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has issued a “notice of violation” to Donald J. Trump’s foundation, ordering it to immediately stop soliciting charitable donations in New York.

The letter, which was sent on Friday and released on Monday morning by Mr. Schneiderman’s office, said its charities bureau had determined that the Donald J. Trump Foundation had been fund-raising in New York this year when it was not registered to do so under state law.

“The Trump Foundation must immediately cease soliciting contributions or engaging in any other fund-raising activities in New York,” wrote James Sheehan, the chief of the charities bureau.

I want to focus on one particular clause in the letter however. The part identifying the “fraud”. To wit:

“The failure immediately to discontinue solicitation and to file information and reports required under Article 7-A with the Charities Bureau shall be deemed to be a continuing fraud upon the people of the State of New York.”

Now, in fairness, that is likely boilerplate/template language for such a cease and desist letter in New York, but that makes it no less true. What has occurred is that the Donald J. Trump Foundation, by not properly registering and being accountable for its activities, has been perpetrating a fraud on the People of the State of New York.

A state government is entitled to regulate, oversee and audit such activity occurring within its borders. As appears to be a pattern with Mr. Trump, he and his organization seemed to think they were simply above such common regulation. The willful non-compliance itself is a fraud, the size of the fraud perpetrated can only further be determined via full registration and full accounting for the multiple years of non-compliant activity the “charity” has engaged in.

There has been a fraud under the statutory and regulatory framework of the State of New York, we are only yet to ascertain the relative scope of it yet. And given the dogged reportage of David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post, which depicts rampant self serving and dealing by Trump as to personal debts via his charity, there is every reason to believe there are very serious issues to be dealt with.

But the ability of the NY Attorney General’s Office to actually deal with these questions depends on the prompt registration and disclosure by Trump of his offending and illegal charity.

Trump and his ill begotten “charity” have 15 days to comply with registration and disclosure. What do you think the odds are he will actually comply in good faith instead of hiding behind some bogus baloney, or submitting patently non-responsive filings, until after the election is over? I’d rate the odds at 100%.

The same odds that exist for Trump turning over his tax returns. Even the one from 1995, that has been beyond the statute of any limitation, whether criminal or civil, for over 15 years.

image_print