The “Liberal” NY Times Focuses on the Next Disastrous GOP Daddy

It is never enough for the “liberal” media. Despite how the “liberal media” gets relentlessly dumped on and marginalized by the right wing nut machine, they are ALWAYS there to hand out some candy to the nutters.

Here are the estimable Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns in the Only Bunk That’s Fits To Print Gray Lady:

WASHINGTON — Senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse have already been to Iowa this year, Gov. John Kasich is eyeing a return visit to New Hampshire, and Mike Pence’s schedule is so full of political events that Republicans joke that he is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago.

Well, crikey, good that the paper of record is covering this. What else they got?

It may get worse, said Jay Bergman, an Illinois petroleum executive and a leading Republican donor. Grievous setbacks in the midterm elections of 2018 could bolster challengers in the party.

“If the Republicans have lost a lot of seats in the Congress and they blame Trump for it, then there are going to be people who emerge who are political opportunists,” Mr. Bergman said.

Well, sorry I asked, turned out it was some entitled crap from a “petroleum executive”. Great call guys!

Swell. Excellent follow up to all those “Ignorant average Trump voters still ignorantly averagely love Trump” reports that are rampant in the beloved balanced media.

Today’s GOP, fronted by Trump and his ilk, is NOT an aberration, but rather the culmination of where the Republican party has been headed for decades, since at least Reagan’s bigoted opening salvo in Philadelphia Mississippi. It is the party of nationalism, racism, bigotry, scientific ignorance and revanchism.

But, hey, never underestimate the ability of the national media to keep on singing like they don’t know their actions helped put this country in the lurch it is in (Her Emails!!). And that their continued refusal to unequivocally call out the current President for the blithering dangerous loon he is, may lead to making the lurch far worse.

The answer to America’s ills do NOT come from the discredited daddies in the GOP, whether older like Mike Pence and John Kasich, or younger like Ben Sasse. We have seen this movie before, and it sucks in a very disastrous way.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

The Tuesday Night Massacre

As you may have heard, President Trump has just fired FBI Director James Comey.

This is truly Nixonian Saturday Night Massacre level action.

Trump previously ran on, indeed got elected on, and likely only on, the scurrilous rogue comments of Jim Comey starting with the rogue July 5, 2016 press conference where Comey went off all rails on DOJ and PIN protocols. Here is the New York Times original report:

Mr. Comey’s dismissal was a stunning development for a president that benefited from the F.B.I. investigation of the Democratic nominee during the 2016 campaign. Separately, the F.B.I. also is investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election.

The abrupt firing raised questions over whether Mr. Trump was trying to influence the Russia investigation. But he said he was following recommendations from the Justice Department, which criticized how Mr. Comey concluded the investigation into Mrs. Clinton.

Trump actually saluted Comey for this at one point. What a micro-moment self serving, not to mention narcissistic jerk.

If anybody in the world thought that that Trump is not as craven and against the Constitutional form of government we all were born and raised on, let that no longer be a question.

And if the media cannot get their heads out of their asses and realize the danger is NOT just to their First Amendment rights, but to the core of our republic and democracy, then they too should go the way of the dodo bird.

The foundations of this cowardly play were always there if you followed the ever changing voice and words of Donald Trump regarding the Clinton email issue and how the Department of Justice handled it.

If you thought this point, and/or Comey was the one only voice that could not be fired or silenced, you are sadly mistaken.

This blog has never, and I am being kind across my writings, Marcy’s and those of our departed friend Mary, been a friend of Jim Comey. He has long, and more presently, been an uneven and self serving voice mostly interested in preservation and enhancement of his own voice and position. Comey has been preternaturally successful at this.

That said, tonight I will be in Comey’s camp. I await what my friends at Lawfare and some others may have to say regarding the Tuesday Night Massacre.

Because this is a day that should live bright for a very long time.

People glibly talk about the “Resistance”. How naive. The battle is now, and has been joined in full by a cabal that makes Nixon look like a piker. The place is here. The time is now.

The temporal fact that it is Comey that tipped a scale of justice is immaterial. It has happened.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Ask Uncle Ed 3A

Dear Uncle Ed*,

I’m a moderate Democrat living in a nice suburb of Philadelphia. My family and I are members of XX Presbyterian Church, PCUSA, where I sing in the choir. Quite a few members of the choir are Republicans, and it seems that almost all of them voted for Donald Trump, as did a majority of the non-singing members. This has made me very sad and also angry. I realize we don’t have to talk about politics, and really in the past we haven’t much, though I wish I had done more. Since the election I can hardly stand to be around them. But I love singing in the choir, and I think the Church does some good in the community. I’ve been seriously thinking about leaving the Church. What do you think?

Signed, Sad singer.

Dear Sad Singer,

Uncle Ed has twice written responses to people he doesn’t know, people he doesn’t live near, people whose lives he hasn’t lived, people whose education and training and life experience are completely different from Uncle Ed’s own life. This one hits close to home. Uncle Ed has similar experiences, though from a different bizarre Presidency, that of Bush 2. Many of the members of the Church at which Uncle Ed sang for over 20 years were business people or professionals; all were well educated, bright, and almost all had money. A solid majority were reasonable Republicans, people whose politics Uncle Ed didn’t share but at least could understand. Uncle Ed saw them as friends, if loosely. And they voted for Bush. So this is a tough question for Uncle Ed. There are two possibilities. You could leave, covered in this post. Or you could stay, covered in the next,

This is a common problem. Democrats and Republicans serve in civic groups, volunteer in community service groups, participate in trade groups and professional groups, help out in kid sports, and live in the same neighborhoods. In the past this hasn’t been a real problem. It’s easy to serve, as Uncle Ed did, on the board of an opera company with lots of Republicans. We didn’t talk about politics. We talked about opera and how to encourage people to come to our productions. In social settings we talked about sports or travels or investments or just about anything besides politics.

That doesn’t work any more. Voting for Trump feels like a betrayal of a shared concern with the future of the country and of our children and grand-children. How could anyone vote for that seething pile of ignorance, intolerance and narcissism? How could people you know and respect, people who have benefited from our economic and legal systems, vote for him.

The central question is how you can continue to sing. Are there Churches near enough that sing the kind of music you enjoy and would meet your spiritual needs? Are there other choirs you could join that sing different music but that you would enjoy, so that you could move to another Church that would work for you?

The first step is to get together with other people in the choir and maybe other friends in the Church who have similar concerns. In Uncle Ed’s experience, singers as a group are more liberal than other people you know at Church. Maybe you can ignore the Trumpists and hang out with the sane people. What are their thoughts? Are you overreacting? Is there some concerted action you could take that would make staying possible? And if you are leaving, where are you going?

If you decide to leave, the next step is to talk to the Choir Director and explain. You may be surprised by the response. Many Church musicians are much more liberal than the congregations they serve. The leader may be able to help you find another Church or choir, and may have sensible advice based on knowing you and your role in the Church. In any event, you won’t want to leave the Choir Director wondering where you are.

You also must think about the time to leave. You don’t want to leave too close to a big service, like Easter or Reformation Sunday or before the choir sings a major work. That wouldn’t be fair to the Choir Director and the other singers.

The next question is what you say to your friends and acquaintances at Church. In normal circumstances, Uncle Ed would point out that you shouldn’t burn any bridges, that you may need these people in the future and therefore you should go quietly. Later, when they notice you are gone, they may ask, but more likely they won’t. Especially if a group of people leave, others can work it out if they care, which they probably don’t.

These aren’t ordinary times. People who don’t see that Trump is a horrid person and a horrifying president, especially after the press conference of February 16, are not fit co-workers. Their judgment cannot be trusted, and their common sense has been overwhelmed by some psychological disturbance. Uncle Ed would rather starve in the street than ask them for anything.

You may not want to, but you have to say something. If you want to be marginally polite you could say something like: I feel awful about what’s happening in this country with Trump, and I’ll feel more comfortable with people who feel the same way. It’s simple and true, and tilts the balance of feelings towards you, so that the other person is unlikely to be too offended.

Uncle Ed would probably be more direct: Trump is everything I despise. It’s not his policies, such as they are; policies always change. It’s that he is mentally and emotionally unfit to be president. Trump is the is the antithesis of every value I hold. I don’t want to offend people who think he’s just fine, so I’m leaving.

Uncle Ed is pretty sure he wouldn’t say: I don’t want to be around Republicans any more. But he’d be thinking that. And he knows some people to whom he would say just that.

=====
* This is one of an occasional series in which I try to come to grips with the Age of Trump. Sad Singer’s letter is based on my personal experience in a volunteer choir at a PCUSA church, and in other singing groups that included a substantial number of conservatives. By extension, it applies to other groups where sane people have to deal with Trump voters.

Notre Dame undergrad (math); JD, Indiana University at Bloomington; 1st Lieutenant, US Army.; private practice in corporate and securities law; Assistant AG in Tennessee for consumer protection and securities; Blue Sky Securities Commissioner, Tennessee; private practice, bankruptcy and corporate law.

I have had a lifelong interest in economics. For most of my career, that interest was practical, focused on the problems in front of me. Lately I have been more interested in economics as a theory, especially its impact on the lives of people like those I met in my bankruptcy practice, and on the politics of money in the US. I also enjoy reading philosophers, starting in college and steadily expanding my reading ever since. I wrote at FireDogLake for a number of years.

Generally, I think the problem facing the US is the dominance of neoliberal discourse. I think it clouds the vision, and limits the kinds of problems that can be identified and solved. For example, the existence and danger of climate change can easily be identified in a scientific discussion. However, the problem does not fit the neoliberal discourse because science insists that the pursuit of individual and corporate self-interest will lead to devastation. In neoliberal discourse, the pursuit of self-interest always leads to Eden.

The neoliberal project has two prongs. One is the police function of crushing dissent and alternative views. The police function is provided by government agencies and private and institutional actors. The counterpart is the economic system , which is operated by government and by private and institutional actors. Some of these actors operate in both spheres. I focus on the second prong.

Ask Uncle Ed 3B

This is a continuation* of Uncle Ed’s response to Sad Singer regarding continued participation in a Church choir full of Trump voters. In Part 3A Uncle Ed considered the possibility of leaving.

Dear Sad Singer:

Uncle Ed knows that leaving may not be possible and it may not be what you want to do. Here Uncle Ed offers ideas out what to do if you decide to stay.

Uncle Ed suggests that you first rethink your definition of “friends”. Before the 2016 election, you probably considered as “friends” most, if not all, of your co-workers, the people you know at Church, the people you work with on civic projects or in community groups or Little League. The connotations of that word made it possible to ignore aspects of people that you didn’t care for or even accept. Cooperating on a project, just like being on a team, smoothes over significant differences. In our minds, we distinguish this kind of friend from the categories of close friends, or personal friends.

Uncle Ed thinks that’s not a good definition now. We aren’t friends with people just because we have to work with them. You might decide to cooperate with choir and church people you don’t like or respect. But they will never be your friends. You have to keep them at arms length to protect yourself.

You mention that you wish you had talked more to people before the election. Uncle Ed is certain you are not at fault. There are norms of behavior in your church and in your choir, and talking about politics is almost certainly off limits. Uncle Ed has 25 years of experience in choirs and choruses, and each has its own unspoken rules. For example, in one singing group, arguments about politics were common. No one’s mind was changed, but the exchanges gave Uncle Ed insights into the thinking of conservatives and fundamentalists that Uncle Ed would not have had in his workaday life. In other groups, the conversations were more mundane, and more fun. Raising politics would have bored Uncle Ed’s friends (and these people were friends) stiff. If Clinton had been trailing in the polls, you might have felt forced to act differently, but there was no reason for you to think she wouldn’t win, and thus no reason to even consider violating the norms.

In the prior post, Uncle Ed urged you to get together with like-minded choristers and others from the Church to talk about what to do. That’s the first step if you decide to stay, too. Here are some things to consider.

1. Sane Republicans knew before they voted for him that that Trump is a bully, a narcissist, a racist, a misogynist, an anti-Semite, that he is bad at business and that he is vulgar and ignorant. They must have come up with reasons to vote for him in spite of this knowledge, and Uncle Ed is pretty sure those reasons begin with Democrats are evil, and Hillary Clinton is the Devil. It might have been emails, or some other fake scandal, or her slight turn to the left during the campaign. Maybe they didn’t think Trump could win, so it was safe to vote for him. Maybe it was some Republican policy position like lower taxes on themselves, smaller government, fewer regulations, abortion, guns, who knows.

Now they see him flailing in surreal press conferences, all his neuroses on display. They watch him installing Dr. Strangelove characters and white nationalists and other dregs of society into high government positions, instead of the nice Republicans they respect. They see the ridicule heaped on him around the world, and the way other nations respond to his incompetence and boorishness. They must be experiencing a sickening case of buyer’s remorse. Your goal is to figure out how to exploit that buyer’s remorse and persuade the sane Republicans to vote for Democrats in the mid-terms, or at least not to vote for Republican legislators. That would create a check on the worst instincts of Trump, and keep him from wrecking the country.

2. Do not discuss Clinton. Don’t say she would have been a better choice, don’t explain her policies or talk about how foolish she made Trump look in the debates. If someone else raises her, say something like: You would never have had to defend her intelligence or her knowledge or her mental stability. She would have done things you didn’t like but she wouldn’t embarrass you like Trump does.

3. listen closely to the things about Trump they make them nervous and push those ideas harder than they do. For example, many Republicans are worried about Russia. Don’t rant. Agree with them with short sentences that they can hook onto and expand. If they don’t expand, then you do, again with short sentences. If you read Emptywheel you know more about this than they do. Use that information to increase their concerns.

Mention the Saturday Night Live skits with Trump and Putin. Talk about the late night mockery of his stability in minor things like losing the first round of the lawsuit over the travel ban, or Nordstrom dropping Ivanka’s line. Ask how he will deal with the Russians if they provoke him. Mention the unknown relations between Trump’s businesses and Russian banks and Russian partners. Eventually point out that If we had Trump’s tax returns we’d know for sure. Keep your side of the conversation short.

4. There are many rich Republicans who viscerally hate liberals. For them, Uncle Ed suggests a different approach. Don’t talk to them at all. If you can’t avoid talking and can’t avoid politics, use words like vulgar, tasteless, boorish, common. Say those words with the sneer your mother used when she caught you picking your nose. Sneering puts them in the position of defending him, which they won’t, and should end the discussion. Don’t leave. Make them walk off.

5. Any effort to act on these ideas will violate the norms of the choir and the Church. It has to be done. Normal people cannot pretend that Trump is a normal, and that this is just a routine change in government. He isn’t normal. This isn’t a normal government. Nothing can be the same including personal relationships. And they are at fault, not you.

======

* This is one of an occasional series in which I try to come to grips with the Age of Trump. Sad Singer’s letter is based on my personal experience in a volunteer choir at a PCUSA church, and other singing groups that included a substantial number of conservatives. By extension, it applies to other groups where sane people have to deal with Trump voters.

Notre Dame undergrad (math); JD, Indiana University at Bloomington; 1st Lieutenant, US Army.; private practice in corporate and securities law; Assistant AG in Tennessee for consumer protection and securities; Blue Sky Securities Commissioner, Tennessee; private practice, bankruptcy and corporate law.

I have had a lifelong interest in economics. For most of my career, that interest was practical, focused on the problems in front of me. Lately I have been more interested in economics as a theory, especially its impact on the lives of people like those I met in my bankruptcy practice, and on the politics of money in the US. I also enjoy reading philosophers, starting in college and steadily expanding my reading ever since. I wrote at FireDogLake for a number of years.

Generally, I think the problem facing the US is the dominance of neoliberal discourse. I think it clouds the vision, and limits the kinds of problems that can be identified and solved. For example, the existence and danger of climate change can easily be identified in a scientific discussion. However, the problem does not fit the neoliberal discourse because science insists that the pursuit of individual and corporate self-interest will lead to devastation. In neoliberal discourse, the pursuit of self-interest always leads to Eden.

The neoliberal project has two prongs. One is the police function of crushing dissent and alternative views. The police function is provided by government agencies and private and institutional actors. The counterpart is the economic system , which is operated by government and by private and institutional actors. Some of these actors operate in both spheres. I focus on the second prong.

Ask Uncle Ed 2

Dear Uncle Ed*

I’m a white working class guy. I voted for Trump because I don’t think that government should help undeserving people. Especially women who pop out babies like Pez dispensers with different baby daddies so they can get welfare every month and their housing and food paid for. They are living large, while people like me are struggling to put food on the table. My neighbors who are less responsible than me are receiving nearly free insurance through Medicaid. They can go to the emergency room for a headache.

This has nothing to do with race. So, why do all the liberals just assume I am a racist? I just want to be treated fairly and have my hard work acknowledged.

Signed, Unhappy in Iowa**.

Dear Unhappy in Iowa

For starters, when you talk about women popping out babies with different baby daddies, it sounds like you mean African-Americans, just like Ronald Reagan did with his fables about strapping young bucks buying T-Bones with food stamps. This kind of talk makes it hard for Uncle Ed to completely ignore the possibility that maybe there is just a bit of racism here.

But since you don’t think it’s about race, you could use different words. Just think of the people in your extended family and your neighbors who benefit from those programs. Use language that is based on them instead. After all, the majority of people getting food stamps, welfare and Medicaid, and even Obamaphones, are white.

We probably agree that there are plenty of people who need the welfare system to work for them, like this woman whose body is broken after years of grinding labor.

Resident Christa Cossey found work at age 20 as a long-haul truck driver, a well-paid job for someone without a college degree. Now 51, she’s been on disability since 2008 because of ailments related to her years of driving: obesity, asthma, atypical chest pain, diabetes, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, and arthritis in her neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers. She also suffers from degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, and bulging discs in her lower back.

We also agree that too many people abuse the system. And you know as well as Uncle Ed does that every system can be and is abused. But let’s be honest. Some of the people abusing the system are your kin and your white neighbors. It isn’t just Black and Brown people.

Uncle Ed has another suggestion. Next time you go by the food court, look at the people cleaning up the tables and emptying the trash cans. Next time you see a garbage truck, look at the guys picking up that nasty stuff and muscling it into the truck. Next time you visit your grandmother in the nursing home, look at the aides who wash and dress her, who turn her over, and who hold her hand when she’s crying and you can’t be there. See how many of them are Black and Brown.

Ask yourself this question. Do you think these hard-working people aren’t just as angry as you are about the people in their own communities abusing the system? Do you think they don’t have family and friends who are on disability thanks to a cheating doctor? Don’t you think it makes them furious when they see white people cheating the system?

It’s true they probably don’t like the same TV shows you do, or the same music or the same movies or go to the same churches, bars and restaurants you do, and they don’t support the same politicians you do. Of course, they probably root for the same teams you do. But when it comes to money, they work hard and they care just as much as you do how the government spends their taxes. If it weren’t for that color thing that keeps you apart, they’d be your natural allies. Trump frequently asked them to vote for him on that basis, and a lot of them did, so you know that’s true.

The stuff you are complaining about isn’t about race. It’s about who works and who doesn’t. Don’t make it about race or you’ll lose your natural allies.

Uncle Ed suggests you look at the big picture: the overall economic system that’s beating you and your allies into the dirt, and that hasn’t given you or any other working guy a decent raise in decades. At root the things that got you to vote for Trump aren’t about race, they’re about an unfair economic system that forces millions of people to struggle to make any kind of living and abandons them when they get sick or get laid off when the plant moves to Thailand. It’s a system that serves you and your neighbors and your kin badly, and wallops Black and Brown people even harder. You need all the allies you can get.

You say that the current safety net gives undeserving people something you don’t get. For example, you have to pay for a lousy health policy while they get free Medicaid that’s probably better. When the Republicans repeal Obamacare, do you really think the replacement will be better for you? You know it won’t: you aren’t rich. Maybe secretly you hope the Republicans will set up a plan that gives you something other people don’t get?

Well, here’s the thing. There are never ever going to be any government programs or regulations or loopholes that give you something while denying it to groups you don’t like. That is unconstitutional. Even Trump can’t make that happen. I can promise you that the Coastal Elites will crush any attempt to do that in the courts, no matter how many Justices Trump appoints.

You have two choices. You can let the Republicans destroy the safety net that protects you and the people you think are deserving.

Or, you can figure out a way to do politics in your own interest without regard to who else might benefit, and at the same time limit the cheating.

For example, suppose everyone got Medicare at fair and reasonable premiums, maybe related to income, and you could buy private insurance to cover whatever Medicare didn’t. Our income taxes might go up to cover the cost, but the rich would pay more and that that would be fair. We’d probably have to do something more for really poor people. Whatever plan we come up with, everyone, regardless of merit, is going to be covered. That would get rid of most of the cheating.

One thing is for sure, you’ll find lots of allies among the African-Americans and Hispanics who want the same thing. With them and the liberals, you are a huge majority of voters. And that’s how you get what you need from both political parties.
=============
* This is part of a series in which I try to take Trump voters at their word and work out ways of responding. After I wrote the first draft, I ran across this essay in the Washington Spectator by Matt Hartman that clarified my thinking, and the current draft tries to reflect the ideas in that article.

** Closely follows this Washington Post article by Catherine Rampell, and this one by Sarah Kliff at Vox.

Notre Dame undergrad (math); JD, Indiana University at Bloomington; 1st Lieutenant, US Army.; private practice in corporate and securities law; Assistant AG in Tennessee for consumer protection and securities; Blue Sky Securities Commissioner, Tennessee; private practice, bankruptcy and corporate law.

I have had a lifelong interest in economics. For most of my career, that interest was practical, focused on the problems in front of me. Lately I have been more interested in economics as a theory, especially its impact on the lives of people like those I met in my bankruptcy practice, and on the politics of money in the US. I also enjoy reading philosophers, starting in college and steadily expanding my reading ever since. I wrote at FireDogLake for a number of years.

Generally, I think the problem facing the US is the dominance of neoliberal discourse. I think it clouds the vision, and limits the kinds of problems that can be identified and solved. For example, the existence and danger of climate change can easily be identified in a scientific discussion. However, the problem does not fit the neoliberal discourse because science insists that the pursuit of individual and corporate self-interest will lead to devastation. In neoliberal discourse, the pursuit of self-interest always leads to Eden.

The neoliberal project has two prongs. One is the police function of crushing dissent and alternative views. The police function is provided by government agencies and private and institutional actors. The counterpart is the economic system , which is operated by government and by private and institutional actors. Some of these actors operate in both spheres. I focus on the second prong.

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.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Surrogating the 2016 American Presidency

Tonight was the opening of the Democratic National Convention. It was a rather stunning difference from the scenes on the street yesterday and today, where there were minimal and well behaved cops in Philly as contrasted with the warrior cop oppressive stormtrooper presence in Cleveland. From my reporter friends from the Arizona Republic, the food is totally better in Philly too. Hey, armies move on food, and cheesesteaks rule.

Is everything coming up roses? Nope. There was the whole Debbie Wasserman Schultz thing. She was well advised by our friend David Dayen to stay away and excommunicate herself from the convention podium. But, crikey, the rest simply looks beautiful. Sanders supporters marching in the streets for change, mostly unfettered and unoppressed, other voices being heard, and all relative delegates meeting and co-existing in the halls. This ain’t the dysfunctional RNC bigoted shit show. That, in and of itself, would be worth this post. There is more.

Don’t let cable coverage and the relentless yammer of their panels of self interested toadies fool you, the few true camera pans at the RNC showed more than a few empty seats and a far smaller crowd (especially in the upper decks) than displayed tonight at the DNC.

The real tell, in difference, was in the quality of the speakers and presentation. The only lasting memory from the RNC’s opening night was the embarrassing plagiarism in Melania Trump’s speech. Honestly, my bet is that is not on her, but the understaffed and idiot handlers her narcissistic, yet bumbling, husband provided. That said, it was a res ipsa loquitur deal and, in the end, spoke for itself. What else do you remember from that night other than Tim Tebow did not appear? I got nuthin.

The first night of the DNC in Philly, however, came with a litany of decent and well presented folks presented to a full and energetic hall. Emphasis on full. The dynamics in staging and presentation were stark. As were the quality and mental coherence of the speakers. The first electric moment came when Sarah Silverman, who along with Al Franken, was doing a bit and intro to Paul Simon singing (a geriatric, albeit mesmerizing) Bridge Over Troubled Water. Silverman and Franken had to kill an extra 120 seconds or so and she blurted out some hard, and real, truth that her fellow Bernie Sanders supporters who refuse to help Clinton defeat Trump are flat out “being ridiculous”. Truer words have never been spoken.

But soon came Michelle Obama to the podium. I am not sure I have the words to describe how good Michelle was. As a convention speaker, a surrogate, a leader, a mother and as a First Lady embodying all of the above. Michelle Obama killed it. She blew the joint up. I don’t know how else to describe it, but if you did not witness it live, watch the video up at top. Just do it.

Frankly, at the conclusion of Michelle Obama’s speech, it was hard to see how the last two key speakers, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, could possibly top the moment. Sadly, they could not. Liz Warren gave a great, and often in depth, speech. One that absolutely slayed Donald Trump in nearly every way. On its own, it would have been noteworthy. But sandwiched between the brilliance of Michelle Obama and Sanders, with his acolytes cheering and hers still reeling, it seemed good, but not great.

Bernie Sanders caught a little more fire, but mostly because of his yuuge contingent of supporters. And that is not just a good thing, it is a great thing. Sanders did everything, and more, he should have done in this speech by ginning up the classic points and issues his campaign, and its followers, were built on…and then transferring them to Clinton.

It did not work perfectly, but this will be a process up until the election date on November 8. Bernie went a long way, gracefully and patiently, tonight. And, while the cheering crowd appeared to be much more than just the “Sandernistas”, all of the hall seemed to get on board. That, along with Sarah Siverman telling holdout Bernie Busters to wake up and not be ridiculous, were giant steps in unifying support for Clinton over Trump.

Listen, I have been around the block a few times, and know I am supposed to lead with the headline. Sorry, this one worked up to it, and here it is. The RNC and Trump got their lousy bounce because the media, once again, cravenly portrayed what happened in Cleveland as normal, and tit for tat, with what is happening, and will happen, in Philadelphia. That is simply a ratings and craven click germinated lie. The difference is stark.

Nowhere is it more stark than in the picture painted as to the surrogates who will come out of the respective conventions to campaign for their respective candidate between now and November 8.

Um, let’s see, for the GOP we have Newt, Carson, Melania, Thiel, Flynn, Joe Arpaio and Chachi Baio. I excluded Ivanka because she might actually be competent. Seriously, that is basically it for Trump surrogates. From the whole convention. Even Clint Eastwood’s chair took a pass in this, the year of the Orange Faced Short Fingered Vulgarian Bigot.

Let’s compare that with what came out of the Democratic Convention’s first night. Sarah Silverman, Al Franken, Paul Simon, Eva Longoria, Corey Booker and, then, the big three…Michelle Obama, Liz Warren and Bernie Sanders. That is just the first night folks.

See a bit of a dichotomy in personality and credibility there?

Then picture that Clinton’s road warrior surrogates will include not just the above, but also Joe Biden, President Barack Obama and the Big Dog himself, Bill Clinton.

Elections are won in the trenches. Say what you will about Hillary Clinton, and I will probably join you on many negatives, but the Clintons do have a ground operation. And their surrogates are like the 1927 Yankees compared to the Bad News Bears for Trump and the RNC. How will Trump bolster his bench, by bringing in Roger Ailes to molest the women of America? Is there another ground plan for the Trump Juggalos?

Sure, Clinton can still muck it up and lose. She, and the DNC, have been beyond pathetic in how they have treated nearly half their party, and much of their activist base, during the primaries and aftermath. Not just ugly, but stupid. They deserve any hell they get for that, whether it comes from appropriately enraged Sanders supporters or from press reporting on hacks (THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!!!)

Bottom line is this: Which set of surrogates would you think would do a better job spreading out over the country: Crazy Newt, Racist Flynn, Bigot Arpaio and Chachi, …. or Michelle Obama, Liz Warren, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama and Joe Biden?

Think I will go with the latter, and I think they will reach a heck of a lot more voters who will actually engage than will the trite and petty bigots Trump will have on the public offer.

And the Dems have a laundry list of other quality surrogates who will stand up. Trump has apparent Klan worthy members like Jeff Sessions, felons like Don King and Mike Tyson, and people who seek to be them.

Who you gonna call when it comes time to vote?

Seems like an easy decision, especially when you consider that the next 30 to 35 years of ideological control of the Supreme Court hang in the balance.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Who Are The Non-Celebrities In The Panama Papers?

In the first stories about the Panama Papers, we got the names of a bunch of politicians, a few criminals, sports and other celebrities and one or two names of rich people. But in focusing solely on this kind of person, we miss the major point about tax havens. They are used by hundreds of thousands of people, including many who are not billionaires and who are not famous or otherwise newsworthy. They are commonly used by doctors, lawyers, accountants, small business owners and those who inherited money from such people.

Here’s a chart from the New York Times showing the mix of people making up the top 1% in income in the US; the chart is from 2012 and uses 2007 data. The cut-off for this level is the Census Bureau figure of $380K, while other studies put it higher. The Fed Survey of Consumer Finances, a better survey, has it at $690K in 2007. The cut-off for the top 1% in wealth was estimated at nearly $8.4 million in 2007. Those numbers went down after the Great Crash, but recovered smartly. By 2013, the cut-off for the top 1% in wealth was back to nearly $8 million, and climbing.

Lisa Kiester of Duke University, a sociologist who has published on the 1% describes a group she calls the double rich in this article. These are people who are in the top 1% in both income and wealth. Their median wealth was about $12 million in 2010, and their median income was in the range of $1.2 million. Both have no doubt risen since then. Kiester does not give an estimate of the number of the double rich, but this New York Times article, using 2007 data, says that there is about a 50% overlap between the two groups. There were about 117 million households in 2010 according to the Census Bureau. From that we can estimate that there are about 560,000 households making up the double rich.

Kiester examines the lack of discontent with wealth and income inequality in this 2014 paper. She offers five explanations with supporting evidence from research:

!. Homophily, the tendency to hang out with people like us. We aren’t often exposed to the impact or the magnitude of wealth inequality.

2. People think things will get better because they always have.

3. There is some evidence of social mobility, and it’s even possible for people to think they could move into the top 1%.

4. People are too busy, distracted and stressed to care.

5. People focus on poverty, not inequality. Academics are concerned about inequality because they think huge wealth gaps lead to power imbalances that favor the rich at the expense of the rest of us. That’s completely outside the scope of most people’s worries about money.

Gabriel Zucman, one of Piketty’s collaborators, estimates that individuals have approximately $962 billion of unreported assets in tax havens. Source: Data figure 4 tab 1 from a spreadsheet found here; click on Tables and figures included in the book. The book is The Hidden Wealth of Nations. For a description of Zucman’s methodology see this by Cass Sunstein.

Kiester says that 56% of the top 1% by net worth were self-employed in 2010. These are people who have the means to move money into tax havens, as are the rest of the top 1%. There are hundreds of thousands of US citizens who would benefit from tax havens, and there is so much money out there by Zucman’s estimate that it must be that case that tens of thousands of them have done so.

The ICIJ and its participating groups name politicians, celebrities, and crooks who hide their wealth in tax havens, and who won’t be prosecuted, but at least are shamed. But what about the huge number of the 1% who hide their wealth abroad and are not even shamed for their corruption?

This kind of disclosure would help break through the mental barriers to making inequality itself a force in politics.

Update April 15, 2016 From ICIJ:

The law firm’s [Mossack Fonseca] leaked internal files contain information on 214,488 offshore entities connected to people in more than 200 countries and territories. ICIJ will release the full list of companies and people linked to them in early May.

Notre Dame undergrad (math); JD, Indiana University at Bloomington; 1st Lieutenant, US Army.; private practice in corporate and securities law; Assistant AG in Tennessee for consumer protection and securities; Blue Sky Securities Commissioner, Tennessee; private practice, bankruptcy and corporate law.

I have had a lifelong interest in economics. For most of my career, that interest was practical, focused on the problems in front of me. Lately I have been more interested in economics as a theory, especially its impact on the lives of people like those I met in my bankruptcy practice, and on the politics of money in the US. I also enjoy reading philosophers, starting in college and steadily expanding my reading ever since. I wrote at FireDogLake for a number of years.

Generally, I think the problem facing the US is the dominance of neoliberal discourse. I think it clouds the vision, and limits the kinds of problems that can be identified and solved. For example, the existence and danger of climate change can easily be identified in a scientific discussion. However, the problem does not fit the neoliberal discourse because science insists that the pursuit of individual and corporate self-interest will lead to devastation. In neoliberal discourse, the pursuit of self-interest always leads to Eden.

The neoliberal project has two prongs. One is the police function of crushing dissent and alternative views. The police function is provided by government agencies and private and institutional actors. The counterpart is the economic system , which is operated by government and by private and institutional actors. Some of these actors operate in both spheres. I focus on the second prong.

How Hillary Turned Her Support for Welfare for Banks into an Auto Bailout Attack

For a campaign that has spent days insisting Bernie Sanders should not launch attacks against her, the Hillary Clinton campaign sure engaged in some dishonest hackery last night.

During the debate in Flint, Hillary attacked Bernie for “vot[ing] against the money that ended up saving the auto industry.” She was talking about a January 15, 2009 attempt to withhold the second $350 billion of TARP funding that failed (here’s the resolution); Bernie voted not to release those funds. But the vote was not directly about auto bailout funding. It was about bailing out the banks and funding what turned out to be completely ineffective efforts to forestall foreclosures.

It is true that Bush’s failure to fund an auto-specific bailout meant that TARP funds got used to fund the $85 billion auto rescue (Bush had already spent some money on the auto companies — basically just enough to ensure they’d go under on Obama’s watch, but not enough to do anything to save them). But that’s not what the vote was (and there might have been enough money for the auto bailout in any case).

Larry Summers’ two letters in support of the additional funding (January 12Janaury 15) in support of the additional funding certainly didn’t describe it as an auto bailout bill. He mentioned “auto” just three times between the two of them. In the January 12 letter, in support of auto loans to consumers, and in the January 15 letter, limits on what I believe is a reference to GM Finance (now Ally)’s Christmas holiday move to turn into a bank so it could access funding. Contemporary reporting on the vote also did not mention the auto bailout (though there had been discussion that it might be used the previous month).

Moreover, there had been an auto bailout vote in the Senate (on a bill already passed by the House) on December 11, which failed. Both Bernie and Hillary voted in support.

So while Hillary’s attack was technically correct — Bernie did vote against giving Jamie Dimon more free money, which had the side effect of voting against the second installment on the fund that would eventually become the auto bailout — he did not vote against the auto bailout.

But Hillary’s attack did its work, largely because national reporters appeared completely unaware that they were fighting about TARP much less aware that there had been votes in December that directly pertained to the auto bailout. Even some local reporters now appear unaware of what went down in 2008-9. John Podesta helped matters along by sowing confusion in post-debate speeches.

Here’s one of what will end up being several exceptions to the shitty reporting on this that will come too late for people to figure out what actually happened.

During the testy exchange over the auto bailout, Clinton called Sanders a “one-issue candidate” for voting against the release of $350 billion in Jan. 15, 2009, to continue funding the bailout of the nation’s banks and mortgage lenders.

Sanders joined seven Democratic senators in voting against the second wave of TARP funds. President Barack Obama ended up using some of TARP to fund the $85 billion rescue of GM, Chrysler and their auto lending arms.

“If everybody had voted the way he did, I believe the auto industry would have collapsed, taking 4 million jobs with it,” Clinton said.

[snip]

David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama, questioned Clinton’s attack on Sanders’ voting record in the middle of the debate.

“It wasn’t explicitly a vote about saving auto industry,” Axelrod wrote on Twitter.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Clinton supporter, said after the debate that senators, including Sanders, were aware the TARP money would be used to aid the domestic auto industry.

“A lot of folks said we shouldn’t do it because somehow it was helping the banks,” said Stabenow, D-Lansing. “It was the auto bailout we were talking about. I was very clear with colleagues that we had to do this.”

Stabenow’s comment, incidentally, is proof that the money shouldn’t have been granted as it was (it wasn’t spent on auto companies until much later). While she’s right that there had been public discussion of spending some money on the auto bailout, there obviously was still so little limiting what the Executive could do with the money that there needed to be nothing explicit supporting the auto bailout to make it happen. The flimsiness of the guidelines is one of the things that enabled the Obama Administration to avoid providing real foreclosure relief, choosing instead to “foam the runway” for banks.

Don’t get me wrong. Bernie did a number of other things at the debate that hurt him last night, such as his comment about ghettos that suggested all African Americans are poor and no whites are. I think, too, the optics of his efforts to stop Hillary from interrupting him as well as his own gesticulating while she was making responses will go over poorly.

But the auto bailout attack was a pretty shameful ploy, one that otherwise would make it fair game to really hit on Hillary’s own actions in a way Bernie has not yet done. That said, it was also a probably perfectly timed attack, because it will ensure victory for Hillary on Tuesday, eliminating one of the last possibilities that Bernie might really challenge Hillary.

Update: As it turns out, Hillary should be attacking Stabenow according to her own standards, because Stabenow voted no on the first TARP vote that actually paid for the first tranche of funding to the auto companies. (Here’s the second, January 2009 one.)

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Flint Crisis: Harvey Hollins Not Giving Task Force Information that Implicates Harvey Hollins

Some weeks ago, I noted that Rick Snyder had picked his Director of Urban Initiatives, Harvey Hollins, to coordinate response with his hand-picked Task Force to respond to Flint, in spite of the fact that Hollins was intimately involved in all his prior decisions involving Flint.

First, back in early December, Snyder’s hand-picked Task Force for responding to the Flint crisis met with him to tell him of their initial observations. One of their key recommendations, as made clear by a meeting summary they shared with him, was that he appoint one single person to handle the response. (See PDF 240ff)

We also believe it important that a single person or entity-potentially independent of any one particular state agency and mutually agreeable to this Task Force and you, Governor-be established to provide effective coordination of ongoing activities and reporting on thestatus of mitigation measures.

[snip]

Accordingly, in advance of our final report, we would like to ensure the independentcoordinator suggest ed above engage trusted community groups to beginrebuildincommunity trust in state actions.

Snyder responded by “appointing” Harvey Hollins, his Director of Urban Initiatives, as that person “independent” of the “involved state agencies.”

You make a solid suggestion about establishing a person who is independent of any one of the involved state agencies to serve as the point person to coordinate t he ongoing work. I am recommending that Harvey Hollins, director of the Office of Urban Initiatives,carry out this effort. Harvey Is wellversed in the issues and the challenges faced by ourcities and will be effective in this role. Senior members of our executive team willcontinue to engage with your task force and provide direction and support to Harvey to ensure you will have continued support and cooperation.

The thing is, Hollins was in no way “independent” of the decisions that poisoned Flint. He has been involved at every phase, down to coordinating Snyder’s hush-hush water filters when he was still trying to cover it up. So basically Snyder just “appointed” the guy he had “appointed” to oversee all the decisions that got Flint poisoned in the first place.

The other day, Progress Michigan revealed that MI’s Department of Environmental Quality had alerted Hollins of concerns that the Legionnaires outbreak in Flint might be tied to the water switchover last March.

In the next few days, officials at DEQ exchanged some panicked emails, pretty much blaming Flint for the non-response, noting that DEQ “became peripherally aware” of the spike in Legionnaires, but also bitching about the Genesee County supervisor suggesting that it might be tied to the switch to Flint river water.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 7.02.07 PM

It appears that panicked email was printed out by then DEQ Director Dan Wyant’s assistant, Mary Beth Thelen, then initialed by Wyant, presumably indicating he had read it.

Also included on that email, though, was Harvey Hollins.

Yesterday, the Free Press reported that, in an interview, Hollins had explained that he had decided there was not yet enough information to brief the Governor on the public health crisis potentially tied to the water.

Harvey Hollins III, director of Michigan’s Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives, said in an interview Friday that he received an e-mail from a Department of Environmental Quality official in March about concerns over Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County. But Hollins said he told the e-mail’s author, former DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel, in a follow-up call, that there was not enough information for him to take the issue to the governor.

Instead, Hollins said he told Wurfel to gather more information and have the department’s director bring it directly to the governor if it was warranted. Hollins said he heard nothing more about the issue until late December when local officials in Flint revealed the outbreak had recurred.

Hollins said he should not be held responsible for what some have called the state’s sluggish response to the Legionnaires’ outbreaks starting in 2014. The outbreaks and the city’s 2014 switch to the Flint River for its drinking water are suspected of being linked, but state officials said they have yet to make a direct connection.

“I have nothing to leave over,”  Hollins  said when asked whether he considered resigning over the issue. “When you have people who are professionals who are hired … to do their job and it takes four months to do that, for me to leave over their missteps, I’m not going to do that,”

“I don’t feel any responsibility for grown-ups who don’t do their jobs,” he added.

It’s unclear whether the Freep asked Hollins if he felt any responsibility for the 9 people who died in this Legionnaires outbreak.

Also yesterday, one of the doctors on the Task Force with which Hollins is supposed to be coordinating communication said that it is having problems getting information — notably, on the Legionnaires outbreak — from state agencies.

“Unfortunately, first on the list is the legionella issue,” said Reynolds of Mott Children’s Health Center, referencing spikes in the fatal Legionnaires’ disease after the city began using Flint River water in April 2014.

“Some agencies have been very forthcoming, other agencies it’s like pulling teeth to get information, and it can get real frustrating and doesn’t facilitate good communication,” he said.

Reynolds, who serves on the task force, raised his concern during a meeting of the Flint Interagency Coordinating Committee attended by Snyder and top aide Rich Baird, who vowed to help Reynolds push through any bureaucratic resistance.

[snip]

The Flint task force has been working to wrap up its investigation this month, but Reynolds said members may need to reinterview some officials because of recent developments.

“If we don’t ask the question, we don’t get the answer,” he said. “But there’s clearly information that’s being withheld.”

How curious that Hollins doesn’t seem to be terribly effective at getting the Task Force the information it needs about events that implicate Hollins.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.