Sunday, October 11, 2020

Last Call For The Most Taxing Of Explanations, Con't

The New York Times continues its investigative reporting series into Donald Trump's taxes, and there is substantial evidence that he committed campaign fraud in 2016 to the tune of tens of millions of dollars by using Las Vegas real estate as his campaign slush fund.

Donald J. Trump needed money.

His “self-funded” presidential campaign was short on funds, and he was struggling to win over leery Republican donors. His golf courses and the hotel he would soon open in the Old Post Office in Washington were eating away at what cash he had left on hand, his tax records show.

And in early 2016, Deutsche Bank, the last big lender still doing business with him, unexpectedly turned down his request for a loan. The funds, Mr. Trump had told his bankers, would help shore up his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland. Some bankers feared the money would instead be diverted to his campaign.

That January, Mr. Trump sold a lot of stock — $11.1 million worth. He sold another $11.8 million worth in February, and $7.5 million in March. In April, he sold $8.1 million more.

And the president’s long-hidden tax records, obtained by The New York Times, also reveal this: how he engineered a sudden financial windfall — more than $21 million in what experts describe as highly unusual one-off payments from the Las Vegas hotel he owns with his friend the casino mogul Phil Ruffin.

In previous articles on the tax records, The Times has reported that, in all but a few years since 2000, chronic business losses and aggressive accounting strategies have allowed Mr. Trump to largely avoid paying federal income taxes. And while the hundreds of millions of dollars earned from “The Apprentice” and his attendant celebrity rescued his business career, those riches, together with the marketing power of the Trump brand, were ebbing when he announced his 2016 presidential run.

The new findings, part of The Times’s continuing investigation, cast light on Mr. Trump’s financial maneuverings in that time of fiscal turmoil and unlikely political victory. Indeed, they may offer a hint to one of the enduring mysteries of his campaign: In its waning days, as his own giving had slowed to a trickle, Mr. Trump contributed $10 million, leaving many people wondering where the burst of cash had come from.

The tax records, by their nature, do not specify whether the more than $21 million in payments from the Trump-Ruffin hotel helped prop up Mr. Trump’s campaign, his businesses or both. But they do show how the cash flowed, in a chain of transactions, to several Trump-controlled companies and then directly to Mr. Trump himself.

The bulk of the money went through a company called Trump Las Vegas Sales and Marketing that had little previous income, no clear business purpose and no employees. The Trump-Ruffin joint venture wrote it all off as a business expense.

Experts in tax and campaign-finance law consulted by The Times said that while more information was needed to assess the legitimacy of the payments, they could be legally problematic.

“Why all of a sudden does this company have more than $20 million in fees that haven’t been there before?” said Daniel Shaviro, a professor of taxation at the New York University School of Law. “And all of this money is going to a man who just happens to be running for president and might not have a lot of cash on hand?”

Unless the payments were for actual business expenses, he said, claiming a tax deduction for them would be illegal. If they were not legitimate and were also used to fund Mr. Trump’s presidential run, they could be considered illegal campaign contributions.
And this is why Donald Trump has been hiding his taxes for years.

This is why he's been in a state of panic at losing the election.

Because the second he leaves the White House, he gets indicted on a massive pile of tax evasion, fraud, racketeering, and campaign finance charges, and perp walked on national TV.

Because he knows he's going to spend the rest of his life in a box, a joke, a national punchline, one of history's greatest losers.

And I can't wait.

The Country Goes Viral, Con't

The next wave of COVID-19 infections is underway in the US, and most likely it will be the worst so far.

The daily rise in coronavirus cases set new records in six U.S. states and worldwide.

Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and West Virginia all had record single-day increases in cases on Friday, according to NBC News' tally.

The World Health Organization meanwhile announced that 350,766 new infections were reported Friday, surpassing by nearly 12,000 a record set earlier in the week. The new cases include more than 109,000 from Europe alone.

In the United States, the governor of Ohio told reporters Friday that he believes there is no single reason why cases are rising, but he believes people aren't taking enough precautions against infection.

"We're sick of wearing masks, we're sick of all of this, and I get it, but we've got to hang in there for our kids. We've got to hang in there for ourselves," Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said.

"The best way to summarize it, I think, is that people are simply not being cautious," the governor said. "They're going about their family life and meeting with people."

Ohio set a single-day record of 1,840 new cases, and Oklahoma of 1,524.

Missouri recorded just under 3,000 new cases, according to NBC News' tally. The state also set a new single-day record for deaths at 129.

Cases have also risen in West Virginia with 382 new cases Friday; Montana with 722; and North Dakota with 656, according to the tally.

In Montana, cases have more than doubled in the last two weeks, compared to the two weeks before. There has also been a staggering 230 percent jump in Covid-19 related deaths in just over two months, according to Gov. Steve Bullock.

"Disregarding expert advice from state and health officials, as well as the pleas of our frontline health workers and neighbors, is leading us down this concerning path," he said in a series of tweets Friday.

"We need to listen to our health care workers. The path forward is simple if only Montanans follow the guidelines and restrictions we have in place. This is the pathm that will save lives, and it will keep our schools, our main street businesses, and our communities open and safe."
We have an executive branch that refuses to take safety precautions, refuses to enforce them, and refuses to do anything to help states. The official position of the American government is your decision to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 is entirely optional. More than 210,000 Americans are dead, and still after eight months half the country refuses to believe that the pandemic even exists.

Even if Joe Biden was president tomorrow and had the CDC issue mask directives, tens of millions of Americans would simply ignore them.

Hundreds of thousands of people are going to die as a direct result.

I honestly don't know what to say other than protect yourself.

Sunday Long Read: You'd Better Ask Somebody

Our Sunday Long Read this week comes from Tove Danovich at The Ringer: in an era where we crowdsource everything through the internet, why not philosophy and social acceptability with the burning, eternal question of "Am I the asshole?"

This is how it starts. You’re on Reddit late at night when you see an interesting post. It went up only four hours ago, but it already has almost 5,000 upvotes. Apparently a couple wants to name their daughter after the Star Wars character Captain Phasma, and they decided to ask the world whether it was OK. The internet seems to think that it isn’t, but you have a different read. Then there’s this kid with a stuffed tiger named Tig who asked his dad to suggest the tiger’s last name. “I couldn’t help myself and just instantly replied ‘Bitties,’” the dad wrote. Now the tiger is named Tig Bitties and the poster’s wife is mad at him. Should he have held his tongue?

At first, commenting on these posts feels like watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians, only if it were broadcast live and you could anonymously text any of the characters when you thought they were right or had done something appalling. It’s dramatic. It’s addictive. Soon, it’s like you’ve become fluent in a foreign language, abbreviating “Am I the Asshole” to AITA and wondering WIBTA (“Would I Be the Asshole”) if you told a friend that you hated his girlfriend or asked your roommate’s boyfriend to start paying rent because he’s been over so much lately. You start reading AITA posts before bed instead of doomscrolling the news because here, at least, it feels like your opinion matters.

With everything else going on in the world (please see: a pandemic, massive unemployment, the upcoming U.S. election, Karens, police brutality, protests, riots, climate change, and balancing working from home with sending your kids to school), the Reddit forum known as Am I the Asshole? has started to feel like a safe space. It’s a place where accountability actually exists, even if only in the form of branding someone right or wrong in one absurd situation. It’s also a place for growth: Sometimes posters return to talk about how their lives changed—almost always for the better—because of the advice they got from thousands of anonymous strangers.

Eventually you stop reading just for the drama, and instead comment because you honestly want to help. You feel like, if not a good person, then at least a better one for it. And maybe you are.

“The ability to define what is wrong and ‘what people are doing that should change’ should be number two on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” says Marc Beaulac, founder of Am I the Asshole? (henceforth referred to as AITA). Beaulac, a photographer and dog rescuer in his early 40s, began AITA in 2013 as a way to figure out whether he was wrong in a debate with female coworkers about the temperature in their office. “This was before people used the term ‘mansplaining,’ but I was essentially asking the question, ‘Am I mansplaining?’” Beaulac says. (This, too, seems like it could be a very popular subreddit.) He knew how he felt about the issue, but acknowledged that he didn’t know anything about what it felt like to be a woman in an office in the United States. Even in 2013, before people threw around terms like “cancel culture,” he worried about backlash to having the wrong opinion. But, Beaulac says, “that’s one thing that’s great about the anonymous crowd.” On AITA, the worst repercussions for bad behavior are people in the comments telling you you’re wrong and branding “Asshole” at the top of your post.

But that all came later. In 2013, Beaulac says the only response he got to his question was, “You’re kinda right, I guess.” Afterward, Beaulac debated whether or not to keep the subreddit alive, whether other people might have questions like his own. “When I decided not to delete it after getting my own answer, I felt like I was doing a public service of some kind,” he says. He thought it might be fun to pick through interpersonal conflicts with “a couple thousand people who liked chatting about moral philosophy without having a degree in it.”

For the first four years of its existence, AITA was a relatively small community in the tens of thousands. But around Thanksgiving of 2018—for reasons unknown to Beaulac—it took off. Beaulac soon added 10 moderators to his team, all volunteers who said they wanted to add something to the forum, and by July 2019, the subreddit had 1 million subscribers. It took less than a year to get to 2 million. Posts regularly get picked up on other parts of Reddit, various online publications report on the ones that go viral, and a popular Twitter account (which has 420,000 followers and counting) reposts a curated selection of them. But AITA isn’t just a forum of absurd humans with absurd conundrums. Today, AITA might be the largest public forum for conflict resolution on the planet.

The format of the posts has largely remained the same since the beginning. Someone asks a question about an interpersonal conflict, and readers weigh in about whether the poster was in the right or in the wrong and why. But the moderation team has come up with ways to make the subreddit better (or sometimes just more fun).

One of those ways is by adding rules. A subreddit is allowed to have up to 15 rules; since the team added a “No COVID posts” edict earlier this year, AITA now has 14. The most important of those rules is “Be Civil”—without it, AITA might feel like the rest of the internet instead of being a respite from it. The moderators explain that being civil means to “attack ideas, not people” and to “treat others with respect while helping them grow through outside perspectives.” It’s not often that social media and personal growth go together in the same sentence.

Then, a year ago, the AITA team created a bot that would calculate a consensus 24 hours after posting and label the post in one of four ways: You’re the Asshole, Not the Asshole, Everyone Sucks Here, or No Assholes Here. Users in the mood for judging others can read posts only by people deemed “asshole”; those who want something nicer can read only “not the asshole” posts. It’s a nod to the fact that while thousands of people do come to the subreddit to weigh in and help, voyeurism is the appeal for many others.

We often think of the kinds of dilemmas on AITA as something for an advice columnist or therapist to weigh in on, but the question of who is right and who is wrong—even when it comes to something like “AITA for switching to regular milk to prove my lactose intolerant roommate keeps stealing from me?”—is something moral philosophers, religions, and individuals have been trying to answer since the beginning of human society.
Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and the rest may have had various things to say about the public forum like this, but then again, they never had to deal with internet trolls.

Having said that, maybe there's something to a place where, you know, you can discuss things online with a bunch of people from around the world, right?


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