Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Scott Lemieux

rss feed

Actual Foundation Scandal

[ 181 ] September 20, 2016 |


Another major scoop from Farenthold:

Donald Trump spent more than a quarter-million dollars from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits that involved the billionaire’s for-profit businesses, according to interviews and a review of legal documents.

Those cases, which together used $258,000 from Trump’s charity, were among four newly documented expenditures in which Trump may have violated laws against “self-dealing” — which prohibit nonprofit leaders from using charity money to benefit themselves or their businesses.

In one case, from 2007, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club faced $120,000 in unpaid fines from the town of Palm Beach, Fla., resulting from a dispute over the size of a flagpole.

In a settlement, Palm Beach agreed to waive those fines — if Trump’s club made a $100,000 donation to a specific charity for veterans. Instead, Trump sent a check from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a charity funded almost entirely by other people’s money, according to tax records.

In another case, court papers say one of Trump’s golf courses in New York agreed to settle a lawsuit by making a donation to the plaintiff’s chosen charity. A $158,000 donation was made by the Trump Foundation, according to tax records.

The other expenditures involved smaller amounts. In 2013, Trump used $5,000 from the foundation to buy advertisements touting his chain of hotels in programs for three events organized by a D.C. preservation group. And in 2014, Trump spent $10,000 of the foundation’s money for a portrait of himself bought at a charity fundraiser.

Or, rather, another portrait of himself.

Several years earlier, Trump had used $20,000 from the Trump Foundation to buy a different, six foot-tall portrait.

In conclusion, some donors once emailed Huma Abedin asking for favors and didn’t get them, so Both Sides Do It but Clinton Is Worse.


The Party of Ideas (TM)

[ 24 ] September 20, 2016 |
An outtake from the Paul Ryan photo shoot that was inspired by his Facebook photos showing him working out with P90X creator Tony Horton

An outtake from the Paul Ryan photo shoot that was inspired by his Facebook photos showing him working out with P90X creator Tony Horton

You know how incomes are finally rising for those at the bottom of the economic ladder? The Republicans plan to fix that with some deeply thoughtful policy innovation from everyone’s favorite Very Serious policy wonk, Paul Ryan.

Ryan’s agenda includes the normal conservative priorities: deregulation of the financial industry and fossil fuels, repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s cost reforms and coverage expansions, increased military budgets, and deep cuts in spending for poor people. As always, the plan’s centerpiece is a massive, debt-financed tax cut that disproportionately accrues to the very rich. What’s new and different is just how disproportionate it is.

A typical Republican tax cut will give about 40 percent of its tax cuts to the richest one percent. Ryan’s plan, according to a new analysis by the Tax Policy Center, will give three-quarters of its tax cuts to the richest one percent in the first year. And that’s only because the cuts are slowly phased in. By 2025, the highest-earning one percent will enjoy 99.6 percent of the tax cuts. The remaining 0.4 percent will be divided up among the other 99 percent of the country. The new Paul Ryan tax cuts make the Bush tax cuts look like socialism.

I look forward to Ross Douthat’s next column on how Paul Ryan is really a reformicon bent on helping middle-class families at heart.

“…a smooth, untroubled expression on his face.”

[ 214 ] September 19, 2016 |


How Trump gets normalized:

“Everyone is saying, oh, is there a bromance between Vladimir Putin and all this stuff,” Fallon began, looking down at his desk. “And what is the celebrity nickname for you guys? Vlump, I thought of Vlump.”

“I don’t know him,” Trump replied, contradicting previous statements. “I know nothing about him really. I just think if we got along with Russia that’s not a bad thing.”

It was an extraordinarily low and depressing display of pandering, and it was tough to figure out. Did Fallon think being polite to a guest meant ignoring his past year of racist, sexist, Islamophobic rhetoric? Did he just not care? The jokes weren’t even good.

Anyway, it culminated with Fallon asking to play with Trump’s hair, while they’re both still “civilians.”

“The next time I see you, you could be the president of the United States,” Fallon noted, a smooth, untroubled expression on his face.

For a reference on how this can be done far better, here’s an old Letterman clip going around, in which he reflects on the fact that Trump is a racist and how it’s time to stop making lighthearted quips about his hair.

The basic dynamic of the race right now is that previously uncommitted Republican voters are shifting back to Trump, turning this into something vaguely resembling a “normal” election at the ballot box. Clinton remains favored because 1)the Democratic coalition is bigger and 2)with his threadbare campaign operation Trump is likely to under-perform his polls on Election Day. But Trump has a puncher’s chance, and the media’s acceptance of him as just another candidate who merely Does It like the Other Side is a major reason why.

NFL Open Thread: Are You Ready For Some EXOTIC SMASHMOUTH?

[ 182 ] September 18, 2016 |


A couple of commenters unearthed the most awesome quote ever:

I’m going to do the things that I’ve had success with since 2001, and I will continue to do that until someone stops us,” said Mularkey, who served as the Titans’ interim head coach for part of the 2015 season and is now their full-time boss. Statistics show that NFL teams are passing more than ever, with teams throwing an average of 20 percent more yards in 2015 than they did in 2005. But Mularkey has no intention of adjusting his offense to fit that new reality, or indeed even accepting that there is a new reality: “I know people say this is a passing league,” Mularkey said. “I’ll argue with that.”

Mularkey’s lifetime record is 18-40. Since his first year he’s 9-33. I think we can safely say it’s “stopped working.”

Also, as an addendum to my Rex Ryan post below, it should be noted that the #1 culprit in Buffalo isn’t anyone on the coaching staff but GM Doug Whaley. Dan Lavioe has the grim details here, but as Mike Tanier once put it Whaley’s philosophy seems to be to carefully study what Bill Belichick does and do the exact opposite: paying heavily to trade up in the draft, investing heavily in running backs, overpaying generic free agents. The Watkins trade was a disaster, not because it was unreasonable to think that Watkins was the best wideout in the draft — this was the consensus — but because nobody is good enough at projecting talent to be a first round pick’s worth of confident that Watkins was a substantially better player than Evans or Beckham or Cooks or Benjamin. If the Bills fire the Ryans and keep Whaley it’s hard to see things improving.

That Will Solve All Your Problems

[ 105 ] September 16, 2016 |


Yesterday, the Bills got absolutely shredded by noted Hall of Fame candidate Ryan Fitzpatrick (who has two excellent receivers and a good running back to work with, but still) at home, perhaps the most embarrassing instance of Rex Ryan’s disastrous underachievement as a defensive coach in Buffalo. Their response to this was…to fire the offensive coordinator? The oddness of the move is manifest:

And Roman accomplished this turnaround with a rookie 4th-round pick at QB and a stars-and-scrubs receiving corps whose star is basically never close to 100% (plus his track record involves taking Colin Kaepernick to a conference championship and a Super Bowl — with Harbaugh, admittedly, but he presumably deserves some credit.) As Cosentino says, this year you can make excuses because of the injuries and suspensions to the front 7, but that doesn’t explain the massive decline last year.

I wonder if the impetus for this was the disastrous 4th quarter sequence last night that pretty much sealed the game. Manuel came in under center, was stuffed on 3rd-and-short, and then they tried the hard count that had drawn the Jets offside last year. It didn’t work, of course, and rather than run the play they decided to waste a timeout. Did they need this timeout to put an exotic play into place? Nope — they came out of the timeout to…put Manuel under center and run into the line, which the Jets stuffed almost as if they knew exactly what was coming. This timeout turned out to be crucial, because it allowed the Jets to run the clock down to under 20 seconds after the Bills got a TD. Here’s what Ryan said after the game:

No, we tried to hard count them because we went in the other time on a five and we never got the first down. It was something that Greg (Roman) was going to go no-snap and then we figured we’d try to draw them on it and if not, we’d use a timeout and that’s what we did.

Maybe Ryan was upset because it was entirely Roman’s stupid idea to decide ex ante to waste a timeout in the extremely likely event that the well-coached Jets defense didn’t fall for a trick they had already seen before. I doubt it — unimaginative, repetitive GROUND AND POUND seems more Rex than Roman, and I’m not sure that Ryan has had three timeouts left at the two-minute warning once in his NFL career — but who knows. Even if that was Roman’s decision it’s hard to justify the decision to fire the coach who would appear to be the best-performing on the staff.

And, of course, this smells all the worse because Rex brought in his brother, whose most recent coaching gig involved coordinating a defense that was the worst in the league by 15 points of DVOA. (For the uninitiated, 15 points is yooge, the difference between the Denver and St. Louis defenses last year.) And that was hardly the first terrible defense he had presided over. Can you imagine Belichick (or Carroll or Tomlin or Arians or the Harbaughs) making someone with that track record their assistant head coach just because they were related? I talked earlier in the week about Casey Stengel’s definition of loyalty. Bringing in a bad coach to assuage your brother’s ego is the opposite of that.

I do have one piece of good news for Bills fans: at least when Rex gets fired after the year he apparently won’t be replaced by Jeff Fisher.

Trump and Birther Revisionism

[ 54 ] September 16, 2016 |


Donald Trump has been a consistent proponent of the loony conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was born in Africa. He is by far the most prominent birther. Despite the campaign statement he’s told the press to ignore, he still is. So we have a media test: any reporter or pundit who says that Donald Trump has renounced birtherism is a massive hack. And anyone who says that Trump is no longer a birther but Hillary Clinton is should be fired.
…heckuva job, cable news!

How Trump Is Keeping It Close

[ 262 ] September 16, 2016 |

Donald Trump’s economic plan is a joke. Since he’s a Republican, the centerpiece is a massive upper-class tax cut:

The centerpiece of Trump’s economic plan, as with any Republican economic plan since 1980, is a gigantic, regressive, debt-financed tax cut. The latest version of Trump’s tax cut is less gigantic and regressive than the previous one, using caps on deductions to recoup some of its hemorrhaged revenue. According to Trump, the new plan would reduce tax revenue by $4.4 trillion over a decade, but Trump promises the actual revenue loss would amount to far less due to the alleged dynamic effects of tax-cutting. Anybody who recalls Republicans’ warnings that the 1993 Clinton tax hike would fail to increase revenue, or that the Bush tax cuts would cause a boom, or that letting those tax cuts expire in 2013 would slow down the recovery, or that tax cuts in Kansas and Louisiana would increase growth might have skepticism that the supply-side fairy dust will finally work its magic.

Trump has amusingly framed his economic plan as a bid to restore 4 percent economic growth. This is amusing because he has stolen this goal from his former nemesis Jeb Bush, who in turn swiped it from his brother George W., whose post-presidential policy center made 4 percent growth through gigantic tax-cutting its main Big Idea. (Bush’s tax cuts did not produce 4 percent annual growth, but characteristically declined to let this failure shake their confidence in the theory behind the policy.) In his speech announcing his policy, Trump relied upon the magic of growth to fill in the gaping arithmetic holes in his proposals.

He also opposes not only environmental regulation but the FDA. And what isn’t policy for people who thought George W. Bush was too egalitarian and fiscally responsible is just incoherent:

On health care, Trump has probably the least coherent views of any question. He has repeated the requisite insistence that Obamacare is a disaster and must be repealed. Today he endorsed a Medicaid expansion on the grounds that “We have no choice, we’re not going to let people die in the streets.” This is unusual for many reasons. One is that the Medicaid expansion is a major feature of the Obama health-care law he insists he will repeal. After the Supreme Court altered the law to let states abstain from the Medicaid expansion, most Republican-led states did exactly that, at the urging of conservative activists. (Many Americans have died from lack of medical care as a result.) Is Trump repudiating this policy? His current health-care policy continues to advocate for a full repeal of Obamacare and a block grant of all Medicaid funding.

Since I happen to be staying in a hotel, I can tell you how the USA Today covered this:


His plan is not an “massive tax cut for the wealthy” but “created 15 million jobs.” That’s what you call in the tank.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton responded to Donald Trump’s howling lies “stretching the truth” about Clinton not having a child care plan. Right next to the Trump story is a story about that. The headline: “Clinton returns to campaign after days of sickness.” Hey, they’re getting the horserace they want!

The Consumer Advocate Who Advocated Voting as Consumption

[ 136 ] September 15, 2016 |


Excellent piece by Michelle Goldberg on why Ralph Nader was the perfect vanity candidate:

In retrospect, the paradox of the Nader campaign is that the high priest of anti-consumerism turned voting into an act of individual self-affirmation, a kind of lifestyle choice. He addressed voters the way companies address consumers—as atomized individuals whose personal experience is paramount. “Welcome to the politics of joy and justice!” he roared at the Garden. Despite the zero-sum structure of American presidential elections, he told voters they needn’t settle for one of two dispiriting mass-market options built of innumerable compromises, or worry about the broader effects of their vote. This was bespoke politics.

Nader’s movement never constituted a real cross section of the left; even sympathetic observers noted that it was overwhelmingly white. After attending another of Nader’s massive rallies in Chicago, Salim Muwakkil wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “This lack of racial diversity among Nader supporters is particularly striking, given the 66-year-old candidate’s progressive positions on economic democracy and social justice.” Yet plenty of people on the left saw Nader as the era’s great political hope. “Nader and the Green Party represent the best opportunity in half a century to place a progressive agenda on the national scene,” wrote Juan Gonzalez in the left-wing magazine In These Times. He added: “It has brought hundreds of thousands of white youth into electoral politics in much the same way that Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition movement brought disaffected blacks to the voting booth in the ’80s.”

And he’s still upset that Bernie Sanders isn’t the obscenely self-regarding crank that he is:

Ultimately, though, Nader’s most powerful example was negative, providing Bernie Sanders with a template of what not to do. Sanders, says Nader said, is “obsessed by the way I was shunned. He hasn’t returned a call in 17 years. He’s told people 100 times he didn’t want to run a Nader campaign.” Determined not to be marginalized as Nader was, Sanders worked within the Democratic Party instead of going to war with it.

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to start discriminating on the basis of race” — John Roberts, Soon

[ 53 ] September 15, 2016 |


North Carolina legislators asked for voting data broken down by race, and then enacted measures explicitly and willfully designed to suppress the voting of racial minorities. Because of the 4th Circuit, the resulting statute will mostly not be in effect in November. But as if to underscore the importance of the election, every Republican-nominated Supreme Court justice apparently thinks this is perfectly constitutional.

I look forward to the forthcoming decision ruling the Voting Rights Act invalid in its entirety, with a concurring opinion by Justice Thiel arguing that the 19th Amendment is unconstitutional.

The Pro-Trump Double Standard

[ 322 ] September 14, 2016 |


The punch-pulling continues:

But in selling his case, Mr. Trump stretched the truth, saying that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, has no such plan of her own and “never will.”

“Stretched?” That sounds like a basically accurate claim that is perhaps somewhat misleading or imprecise or something. But…

Mrs. Clinton issued her plan more than a year ago, and it guarantees up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for a newborn or a sick relative, financed by an increase in taxes on the wealthiest Americans. On Twitter, her campaign posted a link to her plan after Mr. Trump’s remark.

This isn’t “stretching the truth.” This is “lying.” The claim about Clinton was just out-and-out false in every possible way. It’s nice that the story points this out, but their unwillingness to accurately describe it is another indication of the felt need to portray Trump as a fundamentally normal candidate. And, as Krugman says, this is effectively pro-Trump. And while Clinton will still probably win, it’s succeeding in making the election closer than it should be.

[via Maloy]

The Master and the Mularkeys

[ 193 ] September 14, 2016 |


The Patriots opened the season without their most valuable player, suspended 4 games for a trivial offense the league has not remotely proved he even committed in a grotesque abuse of arbitrary power. They were missing the best tight end in football. The starting left tackle on an already extremely shaky offensive line was also hurt and inactive.* And, oh, they were on the road against a team that is arguably the best in the NFL. And yet, they won. Granted, they were pretty lucky to win, needed a botched snap on a field goal an NFL kicker should be expected to make, but that’s not the point — that the game within that margin is a triumph in itself. And the game is a reminder of what makes Bill Belichick arguably the greatest post-merger NFL coach. Mays:

Especially with New England’s patchwork offensive line, the Cardinals came into Week 1 holding two distinct advantages: Their solid front four would face another reworked Patriots line featuring second-tier options like Cameron Fleming, Ted Karras, and Marcus Cannon, and cornerback Patrick Peterson would likely smother whichever receiver the Pats were willing to sacrifice to his side. McDaniels responded by taking both matchups out of the equation. New England’s receivers ran routes that were specifically designed to exploit the man coverage that Arizona loves, and a majority of the Patriots’ plays were aimed at rookie cornerback Brandon Williams

By giving his QB quick throws dictated almost entirely by the coverage, McDaniels both simplified Garoppolo’s approach and made any offensive line deficiencies irrelevant. Wideout Julian Edelman’s ability to win early on routes when singled up on cornerbacks is remarkable, and with tight end Rob Gronkowski nursing a left hamstring injury back in Boston, Edelman was the focal point of New England’s passing game. He caught all seven of his targets for 66 yards, and made three grabs for first downs on the Patriots’ opening drive of the game. His value to this offense will probably never get its due given the planet-destroying potency of Brady and Gronk, but it was on full display.


New England’s approach in Sunday’s game is what we should now expect from the Pats — finding the smallest weaknesses (the presence of Williams at cornerback, first-year starter D.J. Humphries at right tackle, and backup Earl Watford at right guard) and exploiting them in every way possible. New England went on the road against what might be the most talented roster in the league and thoroughly outplayed it. As Belichick has constantly reminded everyone, a stacked roster can only take you so far. The way it’s deployed will always matter most, and as it’s been so often, Belichick and his staff squeezed all it could from the Patriots on the field.

As Tanier observes, another adjustment is that Belichick and McDaniels abandoned their usual uptempo style, limiting the teams to 10 possessions each. Normally, because they hold a substantial talent advantage the Patriots want to reduce the role of luck by increasing the number of possessions; against a rare more talented roster, slowing things down makes sense.

As I’ve mentioned before, Belichick does a lot of things extremely well — he’s a good judge of talent, he’s a very good motivator, and he’s a ruthless master of loyalty in Casey Stengel’s sense (i.e. your loyalty as coach should be to this year’s team and not individual players who contributed to past teams.) But one crucial reason for his remarkable success is how carefully his between-game and in-game planning is tailored to the available personnel and matchups. Sunday night’s game was his latest clinic.

The anti-Belichick of the year is, of course, Mike Mularkey and his EXOTIC SMASHMOUTH. Not only is this a pretty dumb concept to bring to an NFL team in 2016, it’s horribly tailored to his talent. Why on earth would you take Marcus Mariota — a grade A prospect who thrived in Chip Kelly’s uptempto, shotgun offense — and put him mostly under center in a grinding ball control offense? And why would the Titans hire him — particularly given his abysmal record — with Kelly himself available? It’s inexplicable, but this story figures to end something like 3-13.

*Since it came in a dead thread, it should be noted that a regular commenter has seen a Sandra Bullock movie and has an, ah, idiosyncratic explanation for the recent success of the Pats:

The Patriots are a fine team, capable of beating most of the NFL, without Brady. Because they have an excellent offensive line filled with players most fans can’t name.

This is…wow. This is howler almost on a par with saying that the 2015 Broncos were able to overcome their feeble pass rush with an outstanding passing game. The pass-blocking Patriots offensive line has been steadily deteriorating from mediocre to rather terrible. I could point to film analysis, but really that’s breaking a butterfly on a wheel. Nobody with any idea what they’re watching could look at the 2014 or 2015 Patriots and think they had a good — let alone great — pass-blocking line. They have kept winning in spite of their line, not because of it. This is not exactly a secret: I mean, you don’t coax your 68-year-old former offensive line coach out of retirement because the unit is playing well. With an already dubious offensive line missing Solder, the same thing was true Sunday — Arizona got plenty of penetration that Garoppolo was able to overcome using his mobility and quick release to receivers mostly running short routes.

But of course this is the analytical equivalent of Mike Mularkey’s approach to coaching: every square peg has to be jammed into the round hole of “the offensive line is what matters:”

But the worship of quarterbacks is the dumbest thing in sports. Any great quarterback without a good offensive line ends up with Archie Manning’s career, and with good protection, there are a lot of people who can do the job decently even if they can’t measure up to Brady’s level.

[different comment]

Every quarterback that you can ever name as an all-time great had great protection. Every single one.

This is abject nonsense coming and going. On the one hand, you can of course be a great quarterback without even good pass protection. Russell Wilson has been a terrific QB playing behind the worst pass-blocking line in the league. Another contemporary mobile QB, Ben Roethelsberger, will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer although he’s often played behind mediocre or worse lines. But that’s not the only way a QB can overcome weak pass protection. Others — like Brady and Peyton Manning and Marino — can function at a high level with a weak offensive line because they have a quick release and a supernal ability to read the defense.

And on the other hand, the idea that if you have a good offensive line you can just plug pretty much any QB into the offense and be OK is even more absurd. The Cowboys have the consensus best offensive line in the league. When Tony Romo is healthy they get excellent QB play; when they play Brandon Weeden or Matt Cassel, they get sub-replacement level QB play. The Browns have had a Hall of Fame left tackle since 2007 and he was joined by a Pro Bowl center from 2009 until last year, and throughout that period they had QB play that ranged from dreadful to ghastly. Give Matt Cassel to the Patriots and he can do OK, but that’s because of Belichick and his staff and the surrounding talent as a whole, not because of the offensive line per se.

To state the obvious, my point is not that offensive line play doesn’t matter. It’s important! The Seahawks are a great team, but even with Wilson their inept pass-blocking leaves them highly vulnerable to teams with effective pass rushers (even if, like the Rams or Dolphins, they don’t really do anything else well.) But the idea that the QB is mostly just a creature of the offensive line is absurd.

And unlike people on the Internet, NFL personnel types know this, which is why they pay left tackles so much money.

Uh, I happen to have NFL personnel types right here, and while they certainly (and correctly) value left tackles highly, they value QBs much more and defensive pass rushers and wideouts more. Again, this isn’t exactly a secret — Brock Osweiler was able to parlay less than a season of not-quite-mediocre play into a salary substantially higher than Tyron Smith’s. I don’t know if Garoppolo will be able to keep playing as well as he did in Week 1, but if he does it certainly won’t be his below-average-at-best that deserves the credit.

What An Actual Scandal Looks Like

[ 304 ] September 14, 2016 |

trump kfc

David A. Fahrenthold with some actual journalism here:

The Donald J. Trump Foundation is not like other charities. An investigation of the foundation — including examinations of 17 years of tax filings and interviews with more than 200 individuals or groups listed as donors or beneficiaries — found that it collects and spends money in a very unusual manner.

For one thing, nearly all of its money comes from people other than Trump. In tax records, the last gift from Trump was in 2008. Since then, all of the donations have been other people’s money — an arrangement that experts say is almost unheard of for a family foundation.

Trump then takes that money and generally does with it as he pleases. In many cases, he passes it on to other charities, which often are under the impression that it is Trump’s own money.

In two cases, he has used money from his charity to buy himself a gift. In one of those cases — not previously reported — Trump spent $20,000 of money earmarked for charitable purposes to buy a six-foot-tall painting of himself.

Money from the Trump Foundation has also been used for political purposes, which is against the law. The Washington Post reported this month that Trump paid a penalty this year to the Internal Revenue Service for a 2013 donation in which the foundation gave $25,000 to a campaign group affiliated with Florida Attorney General Pamela Bondi (R).


Experts on charity said they had rarely seen anything like it.

“Our common understanding of charity is you give something of yourself to help somebody else. It’s not something that you raise money from one side to spend it on the other,” said Leslie Lenkowsky, the former head of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and a professor studying philanthropy at Indiana University.

By that definition, was Trump engaging in charity?

No, Lenkowsky said.

“It’s a deal,” he said, an arrangement worked out for maximum benefit at minimum sacrifice.

However, a Clinton Foundation donor once asked for a favor and was turned down so really Both Sides Do It.

Page 2 of 86312345...102030...Last »