Posts

A Good Walk Foiled

[NB: You should check the byline as always, though nobody else here at emptywheel is stupid enough to write about golf but me. /~Rayne]

The title of this post is an homage to an informative piece of work about the business of golf, A Good Walk Spoiled, written by sports writer John Feinstein. The book was published in 1995 before Tiger Woods turned pro, driving golf into a boom in tandem with the dot com explosion and the crazy amount of expendable income a certain class of people had to spend on the sport.

A Good Walk Spoiled also preceded the rise of Trump-owned and branded golf courses by a few years. Trump built his first course in 1999, the Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach, Florida. On brand with Trump’s litigiousness, the land was acquired after a lawsuit against Palm Beach County. Without pulling up the relevant suit and land records it’s hard to tell exactly how Trump obtained the 350 acres which became Trump’s first course. It’s certainly not clear from this interview:

In 1985 you bought Mar-a-Lago (Trump’s Florida home, a landmark that had been the estate of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, wife of E.F. Hutton). How did that happen?

Mar-a-Lago was on the market for about five years, but they wouldn’t sell it to me. Now, they had already sold the beach in front of Mar-a-Lago–stupidly sold it–so I bought that, and then the other potential buyers didn’t want the place so much. Especially after I announced a horrendous project for that beach: big houses between Mar-a-Lago and the ocean. Did I really plan to build those houses? No. But it worked. Once I had the beach, I had them, and they sold me Mar-a-Lago. I got a good deal.

After I got it, I was annoyed by the planes going over to Palm Beach International Airport. So I sued the county. They wound up settling, and I got 350 incredible acres–the land that’s now Trump International Golf Club (An attorney for Palm Beach County says the settlement was unrelated to the land). Which has a quite expensive exit from the highway, by the way. The state’s spending $400 million on a highway (Widening and improving interstate 95), but didn’t build me an exit, and I put up quite a fuss about that. They ended up building a $30 million exit (Florida Department of Transportation says the exit cost even more $40 million) that goes to my $45 million course.

Right from the beginning of his current 17-course golf empire, the means and methods by which he operated them were sketchy.

It doesn’t help that the media has given him a pass so many damned times, even in this particular bit of sports writing. What was the settlement really about? How did Trump really acquire the land? It’s waved off in fourteen words enclosed in parentheses and that’s it. The same kind of wave off The New York Times gave him in coverage of their interview with him yesterday, 11 years after Trump’s bullshit explanation to Golf.com.

And I do mean bullshit. Read the rest of that Golf.com article and see if your eyebrows don’t elevate from the reek.

Especially the bit about playing golf with a banker.

Trump is playing golf right now, unsurprisingly, having traveled to his resort Mar-a-Lago for the weekend. I’m disappointed in one of his golf partners. Jack Nicklaus is a Republican and therefore no surprise as one of Trump’s playmates today. But Tiger Woods? Really, Tiger?

I get that Tiger may feel an affinity for someone who loves golf as much as Trump does, but you’d think Tiger would be smart enough to see the handwriting on the wall and the risk to anyone’s personal brand if they’re too tight with Il Douche.

Maybe Tiger’s going along to get along as far too many people have with Trump all his adult life.

In which case today’s round is just a good walk foiled.

Treat this as an open thread.

ADDER — 2:22 p.m. ET —

His moochery bilking us of our tax dollars to promote his golf course disgusts me to no end.

I hope he is counting his golf swings. It would be sweet justice to see one or more of his courses seized if investigations reveal he has defrauded us.

Golf for Fun and Profit(eering)

Before reading too far along into this post, take note: this is NOT a post by Marcy or bmaz and it’s speculative.

It’s also the closest thing I may come to Trash Talk on a sunny Saturday afternoon here in the great white north where outdoor temperatures hover in the single digits. Going outside one risks frostbite and snowblindness.

In other words it’s a perfect day to indulge in flights of fancy, imagining a stroll over the velvety greens and fairways of a lush, high-end golf course, pondering the moola one might rake in from an imaginary money laundering operation at the same time.

I spent some time with a friend who works in the golf industry talking about all the ways one might profiteer from running a golf resort. Neither of us are criminals so our ideas might not make the most sense to seasoned professional crooks. But after looking at the myriad ways in which one could make an unreported (read: illicit) profit and clear money out the door, I don’t know why I don’t buy a golf course because DAMN. There’s a lotta’ gold in them thar sand traps.

We asked ourselves this simple question: if one owned a luxury private golf course club or resort, how could they launder money or make unreported income?

Membership fees

  • Charge member fees only certain people can afford to pay, the kind of people who expect to pay a lot for golf, who can afford it, and who may desire a certain amount of privacy and service incumbent with such fees.
  • Social membership fees for non-golfers who want to participate in club events, high enough to keep out all but the class of people who fit with the golf and corporate members.
  • Corporate member fees assessed to businesses who want to treat their management class employees. Assess them at a slightly higher level because the business benefits from access to members.
  • Overseas member fees, again at a higher level for a different class of service (ex. foreign language staff).
  • Phantom fees assessed to false identities.

That last one is pure gravy. Who’s going to check on whether these memberships are attached to real people or fronts?

Member minimum purchases
Membership-based clubs charge a monthly minimum purchase fee in order to support operations like their cafe and restaurants when course business is slow. If a member doesn’t buy minimum of $200 worth of meals or drinks in a month, for example, they will be charged that amount. It encourages buying more than the minimum for value-sensitive members.

But it’s also a means to keep out certain people while offering an opportunity to make easy money. Think about that phantom member — let’s say they paid $50,000 to join the club. They also have to pay $200 per month in minimums. Different and higher level of membership? Different, higher level of minimum monthly purchases fees.

Premium services
Come on, think about it. Certain classes of members can ask for almost anything, especially if they wave some cash around. Who’s going to monitor whether any of these services are legal or otherwise?

Club or Course Events
First you must be a member. Then you have to pick from a menu of services you want provided for your Acme Corporation Annual Golf Outing. Of course you can only choose from the club’s or course’s list of pre-approved vendors, from hospitality tents to extra waitstaff. There are set-up and breakdown fees.

And it’s all made so very easy for a member to pay with one check, wire transfer, or crypto-currency transaction.

Again, who’s going to check this for legitimacy? To a bank it looks like a pretty typical event charge, no need to submit a Suspicious Activity Report (even easier if you do business with ‘friendly’ banks).

Oh, it’s a pity, too, when your event fees are non-refundable in case of rain.

Operating Expenses
Every product or service a course needs from sprinkler maintenance to grass fertilizer, golf cart repair to staffing, janitorial services to kitchen equipment, can be purchased from a (shell) company which manages all the contracts — so to speak — and then invoices the course.

Naturally the convenience of working with a single third-party might cost anywhere from 10 to 100% more but who’s counting?

Golf Course Adjacent Real Estate
A luxury course helps retain property value; who doesn’t want to wake up every morning and look out onto a fabulously maintained expanse of greenery, assured of quiet, likely within a secure, gated community? Buyers will pay a premium for this, especially for just the right house, and they’re the kind of people who pay in cash.

Insurance
Sh-tuff happens all the time in a business where clients engage in sports and where alcohol is served. A business needs insurance. What a coincidence there are many ways to benefit from having ‘good’ insurance.

These are the obvious ways one might use to make a little something extra through golf course and club ownership. But a special kind of owner might also have a few more opportunities.

What if some of the members’ personal information could be collected and sold? What if those same members could be induced, shall we say, to part with some cash to keep personal information private?

What if access to certain members and their businesses could yield a finder’s fee, for lack of a better term? Or maybe a percentage off the top of every transaction once new business partners paired up and began transactions?

We never call it kickbacks or inflated invoicing, of course.

This is all we came up one snowy afternoon, daydreaming about golf.

But the one most important factor about owning a high-end golf course and club for profit? There’s very little regulation.

Not like hotels — you can see the amount of regulation on room rentals on the back of most hotel room doors.

The course might have to adhere to state and federal regulations regarding chemicals applied to the greenery but if a course owner has sufficient pull those regulatory inconveniences won’t be a problem.

Same with undocumented staff or contractors.

Can’t get too carried away with insurance matters but again, clout will help.

And the average rich dude has a minimum expectation from food and beverage service well above the minimum a state or local agency might expect.

But who’s going to insist on looking at the books if the business pays some taxes based on its reported income and the income doesn’t look out of line with other businesses in its class?

Even when the total number of golfers has plummeted by 20-25% over the last 10 years?

Now imagine what one could rake in if they could afford to buy multiple golf courses.

All I can say is FORE!

 

Treat this as an open thread.

There’s No Crisis at the Border — There’s a Crisis in the White House

[NB: Whoops — forgot to remind readers to check the byline. This is the other pottymouth broad./ ~R]

Reports say that Vice President Pence and DHS Secretary Nielsen have been laying the groundwork for Trump’s speech tonight in which he is expected to complain about House Speaker Pelosi, Democrats, and the lack of funding for the goddamn wall he claimed Mexico would pay for while he campaigned in 2016. The word “crisis” was used 36 times.

Yet there’s no crisis at the border.

The State Department hasn’t published any documents or statements over the last two years indicating there was a crisis.

While talking about Trump’s speech today, Secretary of State Pompeo laughed — not exactly an indicator of crisis.

Bad numbers have been thrown around over the last couple of weeks, claiming that 4000 terrorists have been stopped at the border. Untrue: the number is somewhere between six and 12, and the designation “terrorist” is as specific as the No-Fly List. This means persons whose names match individuals who are under suspicion for political reasons — like musician Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens — may be the entirety of the 6-12 individuals stopped at the border. Hardly a crisis.

Secretary Nielsen can’t answer questions put to her by Congress about refugees at the southern border without prevarication; she can’t even say how many people, adults or children, have died in U.S. custody. Seems like a cabinet member would have accurate numbers at their finger tips in a genuine crisis.

That a handful of questionable individuals were halted at the border suggests the current system works. Not a crisis.

If funding has been the problem and the theater of angrily shutting down the government was intended to force funding approval, why didn’t the GOP fund it while they had a majority in the House? Why didn’t they fund it when they were in lame duck? Why didn’t they make a point of knocking down the massive tax cut by enough to fund the “fucken wall“?

If aliens breaching the border is a crisis, why were government services including border security shuttered at all instead of finding an alternative method for funding the wall?

And if aliens crossing into the U.S. was such an emergency, why did Trump’s campaign fund a broadcast TV ad placed during CBS’ 60 Minutes this past Sunday night, bashing Pelosi and the Democrats about wall funding?

Because the border hasn’t been and still isn’t a crisis; it’s a distraction from other issues Trump doesn’t want his base to notice. Because it’s a campaign issue that worked in 2016 with the same base eager to lap up his brand of white nationalist hate.

But you know what is a crisis?

Tens of thousands of Americans are dying every year from opioids and Trump has done dick-doodley-squat to work with Congress to shut down opioids. Oh, he’s talked about it? Great — a lot of useless hot air and fapping gestures made as Americans’ bodies pile up.

[Graphic: StatNews – note deaths from opioid variants]

At least 42,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2016. But no speech tonight about this real crisis.

Another crisis: the cost of insulin. People who can’t afford the outrageous prices are risking permanent disability and death by rationing their use below prescribed levels. Worse yet, some government employees, contractors, and their families may be going without insulin right now because they can’t afford it while they are going unpaid. Trump is courting Americans’ deaths for the manufactured wall crisis.

Another crisis being swept under the rug: the government’s gross negligence in responding to Hurricane Maria, resulting in thousands of Americans deaths, and the continued abdication of leadership on climate change, contributing to deadly conditions like California’s wildfires resulting in at least 100 deaths. Who is being held accountable for these fatalities as they mount? How many will die during the next climate change-caused catastrophe?

Who is being held accountable for all the other real crises, like multiple corrupt cabinet members, the collapse of ethics in the White House, the mounting risks to national security posed by officials handling sensitive matters without adequate clearance, or the loss of trust in the U.S. among allies whose relationships have been devalued?

There’s no crisis at the border, but there is a crisis. This country is lead by a lying malignant narcissist who can’t see anyone or anything except for himself; he refuses to accept responsibility and accountability. He is incapable of admitting failure, particularly his failure to uphold his oath of office. He swore to faithfully execute the laws but his manufactured border crisis ignores this very simple and straightforward one:

8 U.S. Code § 1158 – Asylum
(a) Authority to apply for asylum
(1) In general
Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.

His trash talk bashing the press also violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, which he swore to uphold and defend.

There’s a crisis when broadcast media corporations — after refusing twice to allow the first black president to address the nation on immigration — have allowed themselves to be bullied in to airing pure propaganda.

The networks have in these decisions breached the contract they have as licensed broadcasters, obligated to serve the public interest; they do so with great bias for a man who is a noted racist, having shut out the only president of color on the same issue of immigration. They do so after Trump has encouraged violence against media and elected officials by calling them enemies of state, ultimately resulting in mass bomb and shooting threats.

These media outlets also ignore history — very specific history Trump knows quite well, having read Hitler’s speeches and understanding the aims of Germany’s 1933 emergency Reichstag Fire Decree and Enabling Act — by giving Trump a platform for untruths, defamatory content, and near incitement, none of which serves the public interests.

Lastly, the press also gives preference to an extortive demand for funding labeled by Trump as a crisis — neatly fulfilling Trump’s claim of fake news media — when the only genuine emergency at the border is two-fold: the ongoing violations of U.N. treaties on refugees and human rights, resulting in the deaths of children and adults alike, and the suspension of government services which include border security.