Friday Reads: Iron Fist in Velvet Glove

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

I figured it was apropos to use a phrase applicable at one point to Napoleon and at another to a mob boss in Galveston, Texas to start a discussion on today’s news. I also figured it’s about time to bring out the idea of the “hammer of justice” too. The walls are closing in on the Trump Family Syndicate and rumors about presidential pardons for convicted felon and possible “flipper” Paul Manafort and immunity for David Pecker must be keeping D’oh Hair Furor up at night.  Welcome to film noir in living color!

How bad does it have to be if one of Spiro Agnew’s lawyers tells you to resign?

Mueller can and likely will name Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator on any case he brings going forward, if he abides by Department of Justice guidelines and does not indict a sitting president. And Trump needs to worry about his criminal liability (and that of his son and son-in-law) when he leaves office.

Impeachment aside, given all that the President now faces, does anyone in his camp have the courage to discuss a so-far unmentionable strategy? Do what we did for Spiro Agnew, and the country. Negotiate a deal: You end the Mueller investigation, and I’ll send out of a tweet: “No collusion, I did nothing wrong, rigged witch hunt, but this is bad for the country, and I am a patriot. So I hereby resign. Sad.”

So will a Pecker and a pair of Porn Stars bring him down or will it be Tax Fraud that finally gets him? Catherine Rampell makes the case for Tax Fraud at WAPO.

President Trump’s touchstone mob boss, Al Capone, famously went down for tax evasion when the feds couldn’t nail him on more serious crimes. Has Trump stopped to consider whether he could be headed for the same fate?

Trump and surrogates have argued that his former lawyer’s and his campaign chairman’s near-simultaneous legal losses don’t imperil the president himself. After all, none of the charges that Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort were convicted of this week involved Russian connections to Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Quoth the president: “And what’s come out of Manafort? No collusion. What’s come out of Michael Cohen? No collusion.”

As for the Cohen crimes that did directly implicate Trump — the campaign finance violations — the president and his people have argued that these are not actually crimes. After all, they’re so rarely prosecuted!

What about tax crimes, though?

There’s plenty of precedent for prosecuting those. And the Cohen filings this week raise serious new questions about whether Trump has criminal tax-fraud exposure.

To be clear, we don’t know whether Trump has violated any tax laws. But there’s a red flag in prosecutors’ filings against Cohen regarding the fate of hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes one would expect to have been paid Uncle Sam.

It’s a little technical, so bear with me. The issue involves payments that the Trump Organization made to Cohen as part of an agreement silencing adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford (a.k.a. Stormy Daniels) and how the company accounted for them.

Cohen paid Clifford $130,000. Trump’s company ultimately reimbursed him for this payment to the tune of $420,000.

Why so much more than the original hush-money amount?

You can follow the money at the link.  Today would be a great day for Trump to release his taxes!

Trump is itching to keep on interfering with the Justice Department.  Why are key Senate Republicans enabling to remove Jeff Session who is a curse on the office but at least appears to want to keep politics out of the probe? I still will argue that Trump got some Kompromat on these guys.

Donald Trump, who’s long threatened to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, may have received a crucial go-ahead signal from two Republican senators with a key condition attached: wait until after the November elections.

Confronted with the criminal convictions this week of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen, the president has only reaffirmed his open resentment that Sessions recused himself from what’s become a wide-ranging investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

“The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” Graham told reporters.

But he added that forcing out Sessions before November “would create havoc” with efforts to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, as well as with the midterm elections on Nov. 6 that will determine whether Republicans keep control of Congress.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, also changed his position on Thursday, saying in an interview that he’d be able to make time for hearings for a new attorney general after saying in the past that the panel was too busy to tackle that explosive possibility.

It wasn’t clear, though, whether the senators’ comments were intended to endorse a move on Sessions later, or to coax Trump out of taking precipitous action now. And some senior Republican senators strongly rejected Graham’s seemingly impromptu fire-him-later idea.

The pivotal message on Thursday came from Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who oscillates between criticizing many of the president’s policies and defending a president who sometimes invites him to go golfing at a Trump-branded resort.

Trump keeps playing the game of saying every one does it and the Dems are worse.  He’s actively asking Sessions why he doesn’t go after pet conspiracy theories instead of actually looking at evidence and finding a crime.  But, her EMAILS!  BUT Benghazi!  It should be evident by now with all those wastes of Congressional hearings that there is no there there. ABC reports on this.

President Donald Trump Friday morning urged Jeff Sessions to “look into all of the corruption on the ‘other side’’’ after the U.S. attorney general disputed Trump’s assertion a day earlier that Sessions had failed to take control of the Department of Justice.

Sessions defended his performance Thursday, saying he “took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President’s agenda.”

“While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” Sessions said in a statement. “I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action.”

Trump tweeted this morning in response, “Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.” Jeff, this is GREAT, what everyone wants, so look into all of the corruption on the “other side” including deleted Emails, Comey lies & leaks, Mueller conflicts, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr.”

Trump is convinced any one who criticizes him should be prosecuted for thought crimes and has a vendetta against him.  It’s getting to Nixon level paranoia.  Mark Landler, however, says Trumps verbal spews are straight out of “GoodFellas”.  He writes this at the NYT.

For much of the 1980s and 1990s, “the Dapper Don” and “the Donald” vied for supremacy on the front pages of New York’s tabloids. The don, John J. Gotti, died in a federal prison in 2002, while Donald J. Trump went on to be president of the United States.

Now, as Mr. Trump faces his own mushrooming legal troubles, he has taken to using a vocabulary that sounds uncannily like that of Mr. Gotti and his fellow mobsters in the waning days of organized crime, when ambitious prosecutors like Rudolph W. Giuliani tried to turn witnesses against their bosses to win racketeering convictions.

“I know all about flipping,” Mr. Trump told Fox News this week. “For 30, 40 years I’ve been watching flippers. Everything’s wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go.”

Mr. Trump was referring to the decision by his former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to take a plea deal on fraud charges and admit to prosecutors that he paid off two women to clam up about the sexual affairs that they claimed to have had with Mr. Trump.

But the president was also evoking a bygone world — the outer boroughs of New York City, where he grew up — a place of leafy neighborhoods and working-class families, as well as its share of shady businessmen and mob-linked politicians. From an early age, Mr. Trump encountered these raffish types with their unscrupulous methods, unsavory connections and uncertain loyalties.

Mr. Trump is comfortable with the wiseguys-argot of that time and place, and he defaults to it whether he is describing his faithless lawyer or his fruitless efforts to discourage the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, from investigating one of his senior advisers, Michael T. Flynn, over his connections to Russia.

“When I first heard that Trump said to Comey, ‘Let this go,’ it just rang such a bell with me,” said Nicholas Pileggi, an author who has chronicled the Mafia in books and films like “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” “Trump was surrounded by these people. Being raised in that environment, it was normalized to him.”

Mr. Pileggi traced the president’s language to the Madison Club, a Democratic Party machine in Brooklyn that helped his father, Fred Trump, win his first real estate deals in the 1930s. In those smoke-filled circles, favors were traded like cases of whiskey and loyalty

It’s only fitting then that the Trump family crime syndicate may wind up defending themselves in Manhattan.  First, for the debacle that is their foundation and just for the Trump Organization period.  Trump cannot pardon any one for state crimes.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office is considering pursuing criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two senior company officials in connection with Michael D. Cohen’s hush money payment to an adult film actress, according to two officials with knowledge of the matter.

A state investigation would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursement to Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to the actress, Stephanie Clifford, who has said she had an affair with President Trump, the officials said.

Both officials stressed that the office’s review of the matter is in its earliest stages and prosecutors have not yet made a decision on whether to proceed.

State charges against the company or its executives could be significant because Mr. Trump has talked about pardoning some of his current or former aides who have faced federal charges. As president, he has no power to pardon people and corporate entities convicted of state crimes.

The Trump Organization recorded the reimbursement as a legal expense. But Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s longtime fixer, said on Tuesday that he paid Ms. Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, to buy her silence during the 2016 campaign. Federal prosecutors have said the reimbursement payments were for sham legal invoices in connection with a nonexistent retainer agreement. Mr. Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance charges, did no legal work in connection with the matter, prosecutors said.

“On its face, it certainly would be problematic,” said one of the officials familiar with the district attorney’s office review, noting that listing the reimbursement as a legal expense could be a felony under state law.

Michael Cohen is now helping New York State pursue the Foundation.  This via Fortune Magazine.

A day after President Donald Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight charges in federal court, New York’s state tax agency has subpoenaed Cohen for records relating to the Trump Foundation—at Cohen’s prodding, according to his attorney.

The Department of Taxation and Finance confirmed the subpoena to several news outlets, including CNN.

Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, told CNN on Tuesday night that his client had information “of interest both in Washington as well as New York state.” The New York Daily News, citing an anonymous source with direct knowledge, reported that Cohen called the tax agency to speak after the subpoena was issued.

Since before the 2016 presidential election, reporters have tracked allegedly illegal and unethical behavior by the non-profit Trump Foundation, once run by Donald Trump and his older children, with David Fahrenthold of theWashington Post leading the pack. Accounts include cases that appear to involve self-dealing, or the act of using charitable funds for the benefit of one’s personal interest; political contributions; using charity money for personal use like allegedly paying Donald Trump, Jr.’s Boy Scout membership fee in 1989 and buying a 6-foot-tall portrait of Trump; and to pay settlements or judgments against the for-profit Trump Organization.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed suit in June against the Trump Foundation and its officers—the president and three of his children, Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka—to dissolve the charity, disperse its $1 million in holdings, pay $2.8 million in restitution, and bar its officers from serving on a New York not-for-profit organization for 10 years. Underwood cited Trump campaign staff members directing donations from the foundation, among many other issues. Underwood said she lacks jurisdiction to pursue criminal charges, and sent letters to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission about “possible violations.”

This should be interesting.  I don’t know if I should read a few law books or watch some gangster movies to figure out what may happen next.  But, as many in the media said, Mueller and the state of New York know how to unravel a crime family and despite what Republicans in Congress may do, they will likely win in the end.

And from the WSJ today:

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Monday Reads

Good Morning!!

Dakinkat is back on-line!  Now if I can just get my internet back, we may have a full complement of writers by the beginning of the Democratic Convention. Now let’s see what’s in the news this morning.

I have to hand it to President Obama. He had to be angry about Clint Eastwood’s disrespectful performance at the RNC last Thursday, but he’s not going to give Mitt Romney the satisfaction of showing it.

USA Today: Obama, a ‘huge’ Clint Eastwood fan, not offended by skit

“He is a great actor, and an even better director,” the president said in an interview with USA TODAY aboard Air Force One, on his way to campaign rallies in Iowa Saturday. “I think the last few movies that he’s made have been terrific.”

….

Was he offended?
“One thing about being president or running for president — if you’re easily offended, you should probably choose another profession.” Obama said with a smile. He said there would be no effort to counter with a similar stunt at the Democratic National Convention, which opens in Charlotte Tuesday.

“I think we’ll be playing this pretty straight,” he said.

The WaPo’s Jonathan Capehart asked DNC executive director Patrick Gaspard about if Eastwood presentation was “disrespectful.” Here’s the response:

“First, Clint Eastwood spoke to an empty chair and then Mitt Romney gave an empty speech,” Gaspard replied. “So, I’m going to focus on Mitt Romney [and] his lack of clearly delineated plans for middle-class Americans.” But Gaspard, who was Obama’s political director in the first half of the term, had more to say.

This was not Clint Eastwood’s convention. It was Mitt Romney’s. He hired these Hollywood consultants to reinvent himself and all I saw, yet again, was the same guy who was a private-sector outsourcer, a failed governor of Massachusetts and now an extreme right-wing candidate for the presidency. So, I’m going to focus on that.

I guess Romney wasn’t really all that proud of the Eastwood skit after all. According to ABC News Eastwood was left on the cutting room floor during production of the RNC promotional video.

A video mash-up of speakers from last week’s Republican National Convention does not include an appearance from the “mystery RNC speaker,” Clint Eastwood.

The two-and-a-half minute video posted today to the Romney campaign’s YouTube account features former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, VP nominee Paul Ryan and of course, Romney himself, but it leaves out Eastwood’s controversial speech.

Interesting.

Joe Biden went on the attack yesterday.

Campaigning in Pennsylvania, vice president Joe Biden attacked Mr Romney’s international agenda as laid out in last week’s convention address, suggesting that it put him out of step with the US’s priorities overseas.

“He said it was a mistake to end the war in Iraq and bring all of our warriors home. He said it was a mistake to set an end date for our warriors in Afghanistan and bring them home,” Biden told supporters.

He added: “He implies by the speech that he’s ready to go to war in Syria and Iran.”

Biden also ripped Paul Ryan’s speech.

He…noted Ryan had not told the complete story when he talked about a General Motors plant that closed in Janesville, Wis., his hometown.

“What he didn’t tell you was that plant in Janesville actually closed while President Bush was still president,” Biden said.

Later, in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, Biden again challenged Ryan’s criticism of Obama.

“He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing,” Ryan said of Obama during his acceptance speech in Tampa.

Biden was having none of that telling.

“What he didn’t tell you is he sat on that commission,” Biden said to laughter.

“I love these guys. Oh, I love these guys, how they claim to care about the deficit,” Biden went on. “Ladies and gentlemen, the thing I most love about them is about how they discovered the middle class at their convention. Isn’t that amazing? All of a sudden their heart was bleeding for the middle class.”

Rahm Emmanuel was out defending his former boss. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, framed Mitt Romney Sunday as a backward-looking candidate, blistering his acceptance speech as laying “out the policies of Ground Hog Day.”

Emanuel discussed the upcoming Democratic National Convention with David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where he was introduced as an “architect” of Obama’s first term policies.

“If people want to know about the first term? Very simple. General Motors is alive and well. And Osama Bin Laden is not. And that’s what got done,” Emanuel said.

Emmanuel also criticized Romney’s acceptance speech as “weak.” From The Hill:

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said Mitt Romney’s convention speech was “devoid and vacuous” and allowed for Clint Eastwood’s appearance to claim the spotlight.

President Obama’s former chief of staff said Sunday on “Meet the Press” that there was “nothing memorable about Mitt Romney’s speech” in Tampa.

“Not a memorable line, not a memorable philosophy,” Emanuel said.” “There was nothing there.”

I strongly recommend this piece at HuffPo by Sherman Yellin: Why Mitt Romney IS NOT Like a Bad Haircut. I can’t do it justice with an excerpt. Please click on the link and read it. It’s not very long.

In other news, there’s a story coming out soon in Vanity Fair about how Scientology auditioned women to be Tom Cruise’s next wife–and Katie Holmes wasn’t their first choice.

In the October issue, Vanity Fair special correspondent Maureen Orth reports that in 2004 Scientology embarked on a top-secret project headed by Shelly Miscavige, wife of Scientology chief David Miscavige, which involved finding a girlfriend for Tom Cruise. According to several sources, the organization devised an elaborate auditioning process in which actresses who were already Scientology members were called in, told they were auditioning for a new training film, and then asked a series of curious questions including: “What do you think of Tom Cruise?” Marc Headley, a Scientologist from age seven, who says he watched a number of the audition videotapes when he was head of Scientology’s in-house studio, tells Orth, “It’s not like you only have to please your husband—you have to toe the line for Scientology.” Both Nicole Kidman and Penélope Cruz ran afoul of Scientology and David Miscavige, according to another former Scientologist. “You can’t do anything to displease Scientology, because Tom Cruise will freak out,” Headley says.

According to Orth, Nazanin Boniadi, an Iranian-born, London-raised actress and Scientologist, was selected and dated Cruise from November 2004 until January 2005. Initially she was told only that she had been selected for a very important mission. In a month-long preparation in October 2004, she was audited every day, a process in which she told a high-ranking Scientology official her innermost secrets and every detail of her sex life. Boniadi allegedly was told to lose her braces, her red highlights, and her boyfriend. According to a knowledgeable source, she was shown confidential auditing files of her boyfriend to expedite a breakup. (Scientology denies any misuse of confidential material.) The source says Boniadi signed a confidentiality agreement and was told that if she “messed up” in any way she would be declared a Suppressive Person (a pariah and enemy of Scientology).

I’m looking forward to reading the entire gossipy article!

In other Scientology news, there’s a new movie out that is supposedly based on Scientology, The Master.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson acknowledges that Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard was the inspiration for the title character in `’The Master,” but says the focus of the film is the relationship between a charismatic spiritual leader and his troubled follower, not the movement itself.

The movie, set in the 1950s, stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as a charismatic cult leader who captivates a tortured but sympathetic World War II veteran portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix.

….

Anderson sought to quickly dispel any speculation about the film’s influence on his friendship with Tom Cruise, who starred in Anderson’s 1999 film `’Magnolia” and whose Scientology beliefs are well-documented.

`’We are still friends. I showed him the film, and the rest is between us,” Anderson said.

In other cult news, Unification Church founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon has died.

The Universal Peace Federation said on its website that Moon died early Monday morning of complications related to pneumonia. He was 92.

“Our True Father passed into the spiritual world at 1:54 AM Monday, September 3rd, Korea time,” a message on a Unification Church English-language website said.

Ahn Ho-yeol, a church spokesman, said Moon’s funeral will be held Thursday, with “individual prayers” planned for the three days until then.

“Rev. Moon died from overwork, from frequent trips aboard, including to the U.S., and from morning prayers which caused respiratory disease,” Ahn said.

I posted this on yesterday’s morning thread, but I think it bears repeating: Private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney under investigation for tax strategy

New York’s attorney general is investigating whether executives at Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, improperly avoided paying $200 million in federal income taxes, according to a report by The New York Times.

More than a dozen firms are under investigation by the attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, who has subpoenaed documents that would show whether some fund management fees were converted to fund investments. Profits on investments are taxed at a much lower rate than management fees, which count as earned income.

Hundreds of pages of leaked financial documents from Bain Capital that have been posted online indicate at least $1 billion in executives’ management fees were converted to investments, whose capital gains are taxed at 15 percent, instead of the 35 percent paid on earned income in the top tax bracket.

According to the documents, executives could take money that would have been paid to them for managing investment funds and put the money into the funds, instead. The executives could pick and choose which companies to invest in, within a given fund, and were not required to invest the value of their fees for the entire life of a fund. They could decide whether to convert fees to investments on a quarter-to-quarter basis.

Today’s WaPo also has a story on Bain Capital and Romney’s taxes: Mitt Romney exited Bain Capital with rare tax benefits in retirement

Before Mitt Romney retired from Bain Capital, the enormously profitable investment firm he founded, he made sure to lock in his gains, both realized and expected, for years to come.

He did so, in part, the way millions of other Americans do — with the tax benefits of an individual retirement account. But he was able to turbocharge the impact of those advantages and other tax breaks in his severance package from Bain in a way that few but the country’s super-rich can ever hope to do.

As a result, his IRA could be worth as much as $87 million, according to his estimates, and he can continue to earn tax-advantaged income from Bain more than a decade after he formally left the firm.

If Romney wants to demonstrate his honesty, he can always release those secret tax returns.

That’s all I’ve got for today. What are you reading and blogging about?


Romney Campaign Sends in the Clowns…er…Attack Dogs

You have to hand it to Harry Reid. He has put Mitt Romney in a corner that he can’t get out of. As long as Reid doesn’t back down–and so far he hasn’t–Romney is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If Mitt gives in and releases his tax returns for the past ten years, the media and the Obama campaign will tear them apart to find out what he’s hiding. If Mitt continues to stonewall the speculation will continue to grow and overwhelm his campaign and the upcoming Republican Convention.

Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake wrote about Romney’s “Harry Reid Problem” this morning.

At its root, the problem for Romney on this matter is that he and Reid are simply not playing by the same set of rules. Here’s why.

1. Reid isn’t up for re-election until 2016 (if he even decides to run again, since he will be 76 years old that year). 2. His allegation against Romney only strengthens his hand among his Democratic colleagues — in and out of the Senate. 3. He’s not running for president and, therefore, isn’t subject to the same sort of transparency demands that Romney is. 4. He’s far less well-known than Romney, meaning that by engaging Reid, the Republican presidential nominee is punching down in a big way.

“He’s fearless and shameless,” said Jon Ralston, the leading political journalist in the state of Nevada and a man who has watched Reid’s career closely. “The most dangerous man is one who does not care.”

The shaming of Reid, which is clearly what Republicans — Romney included — are now set on doing, then, likely won’t work. Several close Reid allies insist he simply will never reveal the alleged source of the Romney tax information and, they argue, politically speaking he won’t ever have to, since the allegation — as we noted above — does little harm to Reid’s political career.

In politics, a charge unanswered is a charge believed. It’s why Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s (D) slow response to charges regarding his service in Vietnam — allegations Kerry clearly believed were beneath contempt — wound up playing a major role in his defeat in the 2004 presidential election.

“I just believe that this hurts Romney more,” said one senior Republican strategist who follows Nevada politics closely. “If he doesn’t produce his tax returns, this will probably continue. If he finally relents, then Reid just says ‘thank you.’”

So far, the Romney campaign response to Reid’s accusations has not been impressive. Yesterday, Reid’s accusation was the talk of the Sunday shows. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus called Reid a “dirty liar,” and this morning he said he’s not a bit regretful.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Monday he would “triple down” on his charge that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a “dirty liar” and said the GOP won’t allow Democrats to “manufacture stories” and “steal an election.”

“There’s no triple down in blackjack, but I’ll triple down on my comments yesterday,” Priebus said on “Fox & Friends,” referring to the epithet he first leveled Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

“It’s amazing to me that there can be any honor in a position that he holds, that he’s degraded so far down the tubes, Priebus continued. “It is what it is. He’s a dirty liar, and we’re moving on.”

Reince might be moving on, but no one else is. Yesterday, Lindsey Graham said that Reid is “making things up.”

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham strongly took issue with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s accusations that Mitt Romney has not paid taxes in 10 years, saying Sunday that the Democratic leader was “lying.”

“What he did on the floor of the Senate is so out of bounds. I think he’s lying about his statement, of knowing something about Romney,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Oddly, the one person who knows for sure what is in Romney’s tax returns didn’t turn up on the Sunday Shows this week–how often does that happen? John McCain got 23 years of Romney’s tax returns during the VP vetting process in 2008. Either McCain or some of his advisers know what’s in there.

So why isn’t McCain standing up and saying, “I saw Romney tax returns and he paid substantial amounts of federal income taxes in every year we looked at”? McCain did join his colleagues on the fainting couch last week, but only to give a weak rejoinder, saying “Reid may have ‘gone over the line.'” Why isn’t he defending the man who will be the Republican Party’s nominee?

Could it be that McCain doesn’t want to get caught in a lie if Romney is eventually forced to the secrets of his tax returns?

This morning Romney released his nastiest attack dog. John Sununu told Politico:

“Look, Harry Reid is a bumbling Senate leader,” the former New Hampshire governor said Monday on Fox News. “He hasn’t been able to pass a budget, he hasn’t been able to do anything about entitlement reform, he’s done nothing worthwhile except the bidding of the Obama administration. They have pointed out that Harry is lying, and the public is beginning to understand that Harry is lying.”

Sorry John, what the public is beginning to understand is that Mitt Romney is a lying tax evader. More whining from Sununu:

“It’s not Harry Reid, it’s President Obama and the Obama campaign doing what they always do,” he said. “The Obama campaign and President Obama are the ones that are behind this dishonesty and misrepresentation because they are trying to hide the failure of this abysmal presidency that we have had in office the last four years.”

He added: “It is, in my opinion, eroding the only asset he ever had, and that was a general, likable feeling that the public had toward him.”

The interesting thing is that all of these Romney defenders are doing the same thing they’re accusing Harry Reid of doing. They have no idea what’s in Romney’s tax returns or who, if anyone, told Reid that Romney didn’t pay federal income taxes for a decade. Only one of these guys knows for sure what’s in those returns, and John McCain isn’t talking–unless he’s the one who whispered in Harry Reid’s ear.


Queen Ann Lays Down the Law on Mitt’s Taxes as Obama Opens a New Campaign Front

Thanks to Delphyne, who posted this link on the morning thread: Ann Romney: We’ve Given ‘All You People Need To Know’ About Family Finances

Mitt Romney’s wife is reinforcing her husband’s refusal to make public several years of tax returns, telling ABC News “we’ve given all you people need to know” about the family’s finances.

“You know, you should really look at where Mitt has led his life, and where he’s been financially,” she said in her interview with Robin Roberts. “He’s a very generous person. We give 10 percent of our income to our church every year. Do you think that is the kind of person that is trying to hide things, or do things? No. He is so good about it. Then, when he was governor of Massachusetts, didn’t take a salary in the four years.”

Roberts pressed: “Why not show that, then?” and reasoned that people could “move on” if her husband released his returns.

Romney responded, “Because there are so many things that will be open again for more attack… and that’s really, that’s just the answer. And we’ve given all you people need to know and understand about our financial situation and about how we live our life. And so, the election, again, will not be decided on that. It will be decided on who is gonna turn the economy around and how are jobs gonna come back to America.”

Queen Ann has spoken, and that’s that, you people. Ann’s attitude puts me in mind of this famous quote from Leona Helmsley: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes…”

Meanwhile, President Obama is opening a new campaign front today in Florida. The Bain attacks were just a warm-up for an even more lethal attack in which the consequences of Mitt Romney’s stated support of the Ryan budget will spelled out in detail. From MSNBC’s First Thoughts:

Here comes Medicare: The past few weeks on the presidential campaign trail have featured aggressive attacks and counterattacks. On outsourcing by Bain Capital. On Mitt Romney’s post-1999 association with that firm, as well has his tax returns. On charges of “crony capitalism” in the Obama administration. And on President Obama’s views about business. And today when Obama begins a two-day swing through the crucial state of Florida — with all of its seniors — he’ll introduce another attack: hitting Romney on Medicare and the Ryan budget. Per the campaign, the president “will discuss his commitment to strengthening Medicare, and a new report tomorrow that highlights the devastating impact Mitt Romney’s Medicare plan could have on the 3.4 million Floridians that rely on Medicare.” Bottom line, per the campaign’s guidance: Obama will argue that Romney — through his support for the Ryan budget plan — advocates ending Medicare “as we know it.” Obama starts his Florida swing with a 1:25 pm ET event in Jacksonville, and then he heads to West Palm Beach at 6:20 pm. Tomorrow in the Sunshine State, he hits Ft. Myers and Winter Park.

As Ed Kilgore wrote this morning, Jonathan Chait predicted this two-front strategy last month.

I strongly suspect that Obama is currently in the first stage of a two-part assault on Romney. The first is to define his motives and perspective: a rich man who sees the world from the perspective of the CEO suite and blithely assumes what is good for people like himself is good for everybody.

This is the essential predicate for part two, which I would guess (I have no inside information) will dominate the last half of the campaign. Part two is Romney’s fealty to the Bush-era low-tax, anti-regulatory ideology and the radical Paul Ryan plan. The average undecided voter pays little attention to politics and might not understand why a candidate would return to failed Bush-era policies or slash the social safety net in order to clear budgetary headroom for keeping taxes on the rich low. Defining Romney’s business career is a way of making sense of those choices.

This morning, Chait announced that phase two begins today.

Greg Sargent explains why stage two is necessary:

Keep in mind: A focus group convened by the pro-Obama Priorities U.S.A. found that voters simply refused to believe that Romney or Ryan would really transform Medicare into a quasi-voucher program while also cutting taxes for the rich. This is what the assault on Romney’s Bain years is really about. It’s an effort to establish an image of Romney that will make it easier for voters to accept that this is indeed the agenda Romney has embraced and would carry out as president.

As the Obama campaign will point out, Republicans expect Romney to essentially rubber-stamp the Ryan’s agenda. ”We want the Ryan budget,” Grover Norquist recently said. “Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States.”

The attacks on Romney’s business background and core rationale for running for president may enable the Obama campaign to fight Romney to a draw on the economy — by persuading swing voters who are unhappy with Obama’s performance that Romney certainly doesn’t have the answers to their economic problems, and could even make things worse.

I heard on the Morning Joe show today that Obama’s Bain attacks aren’t working because polls still show Obama and Romney deadlocked after weeks of the Obama campaign pounding Romney on Bain, outsourcing, and tax evasion. But I agree with Jamelle Bouie that it’s way too early to know for sure whether the attacks will work.

In the summer of 2004 it seemed that the Swiftboat attacks weren’t hurting Kerry, but only political junkies like us are really paying attention right now. The real tests will come after the conventions and during the debates. Bouie writes:

Given the extent to which commentators have analogized this controversy to the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry, it’s worth looking back at how the former nominee fared during the period in which he absorbed withering attacks on his military record. The Swift Boat ads aired from the beginning of May until the end of August. During this period, according to Gallup, Kerry held a small lead among likely voters.

Kerry’s position began to decline in August, but even then, he ended the month with only a small deficit. George W. Bush didn’t begin to build a large lead until the fall. The growth in Bush’s lead corresponded with a decline in Kerry’s net favorability. It’s possible Kerry was unaffected by the Swift Boat attacks. But it’s also possible that they didn’t begin to have an impact until later. It’s also too early to say whether the attacks on Bain will work. But there’s a chance they’ll have the most effect after the conventions, as undecided voters begin to make a choice, and draw on overall impressions built up over months as they make their decision. Given the new $8 million ad buy from Crossroads — meant to deflect Obama’s attacks on Bain — it’s clear Republicans see long-term danger here.

I have to say, this campaign is getting a lot more interesting. I’m not thrilled with either of the candidates, but I have no problem saying that Romney is much much more horrible than Obama. I probably won’t end up voting for either of these candidates, but as a true political junkie I love watching a hard fought campaign.


Thursday Reads: Mitt Romney, Casino Capitalist, and Other News

Good Morning!

I hope everyone had a nice, relaxing holiday. There wasn’t a whole lot of news breaking yesterday, but I read some good reactions to the Vanity Fair Story on the many overseas tax shelters that Mitt’s Romney uses to hide his money.

Mitt Romney, Casino Capitalist

At the Nation, Ben Adler worked up an excellent summary of the VF article, highlighting the main points. Here’s his summary of a particularly disturbing part–the possibility that Bain was laundering money money for some questionable people.

§ Did Bain serve as a tax haven for foreign criminals? As Shaxson explains, “Private equity is one channel for this secrecy-shrouded foreign money to enter the United States, and a filing for Mitt Romney’s first $37 million Bain Capital Fund, of 1984, provides a rare window into this. One foreign investor, of $2 million, was the newspaper tycoon, tax evader, and fraudster Robert Maxwell, who fell from his yacht, and drowned, off of the Canary Islands in 1991 in strange circumstances, after looting his company’s pension fund. The Bain filing also names Eduardo Poma, a member of one of the ‘14 families’ oligarchy that has controlled most of El Salvador’s wealth for decades; oddly, Poma is listed as sharing a Miami address with two anonymous companies that invested $1.5 million between them. The filings also show a Geneva-based trustee overseeing a trust that invested $2.5 million, a Bahamas corporation that put in $3 million, and three corporations in the tax haven of Panama, historically a favored destination for Latin-American dirty money—’one of the filthiest money-laundering sinks in the world,’ as a US Customs official once put it.”

Politico seemed disapproving of the Obama campaign calling attention to the VF piece. The headline seems to suggest that it is somehow unseemly to refer to an opponent’s tax evasion methods.

From Obama campaign spokseman Ben LaBolt, on a call with Ohio reporters:

“Today we’re learning more about Mitt Romney’s bets against America. Vanity Fair’s raising important questions about Romney’s offshore accounts in foreign tax havens, including his mysterious corporation in Bermuda, his funds in the Cayman Islands, and the Swiss bank account he opened. The question is, why? Was he avoiding paying his fair share of U.S. taxes? Was he hedging against the dollar? Until he releases his tax returns from that period, Americans will never know. This raises serious questions. If he has nothing to hide, why doesn’t he just release his tax returns?”

And from Bill Burton, at Priorities:

“Today’s Vanity Fair article confirms what the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported but the Romney campaign falsely denied. Unlike the vast majority of Americans who pay their fair share of taxes, Mitt Romney is avoiding taxes by stashing millions of dollars in the Cayman Islands. This matters in the presidential campaign because it is just these types of loopholes for the wealthy that Romney would protect, forcing more of the tax burden onto the middle class.

Those seem like pretty good questions to me.

RalphB posted this AP article in the comments yesterday: Mystery Bermuda-based company and other undisclosed Romney assets hint at larger wealth

For nearly 15 years, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s financial portfolio has included an offshore company that remained invisible to voters as his political star rose.

Based in Bermuda, Sankaty High Yield Asset Investors Ltd. was not listed on any of Romney’s state or federal financial reports. The company is among several Romney holdings that have not been fully disclosed, including one that recently posted a $1.9 million earning — suggesting he could be wealthier than the nearly $250 million estimated by his campaign.

The omissions were permitted by state and federal authorities overseeing Romney’s ethics filings, and he has never been cited for failing to disclose information about his money. But Romney’s limited disclosures deprive the public of an accurate depiction of his wealth and a clear understanding of how his assets are handled and taxed, according to experts in private equity, tax and campaign finance law.

Romney reported this holding on his 2010 tax form, but he did not disclose it when he ran for governor in 2001-02, even though he was required to do so. Pretty sleazy. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations on this ethics violation has expired.

Paul Krugman blogged about Romney yesterday: Off And Out With Mitt Romney.

It appears that the Obama campaign has decided to ignore the queasiness of Democrats with Wall Street ties, and go after Mitt Romney’s record at Bain. And rightly so!

After all, what is Romney’s case – that is, why does he want us to think he should be president? It’s not about ideology: Romney offers nothing but warmed-over right-wing platitudes, with an extra helping of fraudulent arithmetic, and it’s fairly obvious that even he himself doesn’t believe anything he’s saying.

Instead, his thing is competence: supposedly, his record as a successful businessman should tell us that he knows how to create jobs….[but] even if Romney were a true captain of industry, a latter-day Andrew Carnegie, this wouldn’t be a strong qualification.

In any case, however, Romney wasn’t that kind of businessman. He didn’t build businesses, he bought and sold them – sometimes restructuring them in ways that added jobs, often in ways that preserved profits but destroyed jobs, and fairly often in ways that extracted money for Bain but killed the business in the process….

Or put it a different way: Romney wasn’t so much a captain of industry as a captain of deindustrialization, making big profits for his firm (and himself) by helping to dismantle the implicit social contract that used to make America a middle-class society.

I particularly want to recommend a brilliant essay in The Nation by Robert Reich: Mitt Romney and the New Gilded Age. Reich has really dedicated himself to standing up for the 99% this year, and this piece really brings it all together and holds Romney up as the perfect symbol of “casino capitalism.”

Connect the dots of casino capitalism, and you get Mitt Romney. The fortunes raked in by financial dealmakers depend on special goodies baked into the tax code such as “carried interest,” which allows Romney and other partners in private-equity firms (as well as in many venture-capital and hedge funds) to treat their incomes as capital gains taxed at a maximum of
15 percent. This is how Romney managed to pay an average of 14 percent on more than $42 million of combined income in 2010 and 2011. But the carried-interest loophole makes no economic sense. Conservatives try to justify the tax code’s generous preference for capital gains as a reward to risk-takers—but Romney and other private-equity partners risk little, if any, of their personal wealth. They mostly bet with other investors’ money, including the pension savings of average working people. You can check out easyslots.com.

Another goodie allows private-equity partners to sock away almost any amount of their earnings into a tax-deferred IRA, while the rest of us are limited to a few thousand dollars a year. The partners can merely low-ball the value of whatever portion of their investment partnership they put away—even valuing it at zero—because the tax code considers a partnership interest to have value only in the future. This explains how Romney’s IRA is worth as much as $101 million. The tax code further subsidizes private equity and much of the rest of the financial sector by making interest on debt tax-deductible, while taxing profits and dividends. This creates huge incentives for financiers to find ways of substituting debt for equity and is a major reason America’s biggest banks have leveraged America to the hilt. It’s also why Romney’s Bain and other private-equity partnerships have done the same to the companies they buy.

These maneuvers shift all the economic risk to debtors, who sometimes can’t repay what they owe. That’s rarely a problem for the financiers who engineer the deals; they’re sufficiently diversified to withstand some losses, or they’ve already taken their profits and moved on. But piles of debt play havoc with the lives of real people in the real economy when the companies they work for can’t meet their payments, or the banks they rely on stop lending money, or the contractors they depend on go broke—often with the result that they can’t meet their own debt payments and lose their homes, cars and savings.

Reich notes that if Romney were to win the White House, he would be very different from past wealthy presidents.

We’ve had wealthy presidents before, but they have been traitors to their class—Teddy Roosevelt storming against the “malefactors of great wealth” and busting up the trusts, Franklin Roosevelt railing against the “economic royalists” and raising their taxes, John F. Kennedy appealing to the conscience of the nation to conquer poverty. Romney is the opposite: he wants to do everything he can to make the superwealthy even wealthier and the poor even poorer, and he justifies it all with a thinly veiled social Darwinism.

Obama should be holding Romney up as the personification of all that brought the economy to its knees in 2008. Why aren’t the Democrats screaming from the rooftops about it?

Part of the answer, surely, is that elected Democrats are still almost as beholden to the wealthy for campaign funds as the Republicans, and don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them. Wall Street can give most of its largesse to Romney this year and still have enough left over to tame many influential Democrats (look at the outcry from some of them when the White House took on Bain Capital). But I suspect a deeper reason for their reticence is that if they connect the dots and reveal Romney for what he is—the epitome of what’s fundamentally wrong with our economy—they’ll be admitting how serious our economic problems really are. They would have to acknowledge that the economic catastrophe that continues to cause us so much suffering is, at its root, a product of the gross inequality of income, wealth and political power in America’s new Gilded Age, as well as the perverse incentives of casino capitalism if you bother to check out these no deposit mobile casinos and connect the dots.

Please go read the whole thing. You won’t regret it.

In other news,

The Sun has been very active lately.

(SPACE.com) The sun is unleashing some powerful solar flares today (July 4) in an impressive celestial fireworks display just in time for the U.S. Independence Day holiday.

The latest solar flare erupted at 5:47 a.m. EDT (0947 GMT) and hit its peak strength eight minutes later. The flare fired off from the active sunspot AR1515 and registered as a class M5.3 solar storm on the scale used by astronomers to measure space weather, according to the Space Weather Prediction Group operated by NOAA.

Class M solar flares are powerful, but still medium-strength, sun storms that can supercharge northern lights displays on Earth. The weakest of the sun’s strong solar flares are C-class storms.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft currently watching the sun also captured another solar flare this morning that reached M2 on the sun storm scale.

“As the United States is observing Independence Day, active region 1515 unleashed another M2-class solar flare,” SDO scientists wrote in an announcement posted to the mission’s Facebook and YouTube sites. The flare peaked at 12:37 a.m. EDT (0437 GMT), they added.

Here’s a video of solar flares that took place on July 4, 2012.

Breathtaking!

TV doctor Drew Pinsky, AKA Dr. Drew, is being looked at by the Feds in the GlaxoSmithKline case.

One of Glaxo’s blockbuster drugs was Wellbutrin, which was approved by the FDA to treat depression. Starting in 1999, the Justice Department says, the company “engaged in a nationwide scheme” to promote the drug to treat other conditions including weight problems, addictions, and sexual dysfunction. Pinsky was one of the experts paid to tout Wellbutrin, according to the complaint filed against Glaxo by government prosecutors….

The federal complaint says Cooney Waters, a public-relations firm hired by Glaxo to promote Wellbutrin, “hired Dr. Drew Pinsky from MTV and Loveline as a spokesperson to deliver messages about WBSR [Wellbutrin] in settings where it did not appear that Dr. Pinsky was speaking for WBSR.”

Apparently Pinsky hasn’t specifically been accused of any crime.  He told The Daily Beast that he was paid $275,000 to discuss “intimacy and depression” in a number of settings and media. He claims that all of his “comments were consistent with my clinical experience.”

Here’s one example from the federal complaint:

Pinsky said one of the ingredients in Wellbutrin “could explain a woman suddenly having 60 orgasms in one night.” The complaint against Glaxo says “Dr. Pinsky explained that one of the things he advocates for people experiencing diminished libido or arousal” is Wellbutrin.

Stephen Hawking said that he had to pay off a $100 bet that the Higgs boson particle would never be discovered. He says Peter Higgs should get the Nobel Price for predicting it.

A sunken land bridge that once was home to “tens of thousands” of people has been discovered in the North Sea between Scotland and Denmark.

‘Britain’s Atlantis’ – a hidden underwater world swallowed by the North Sea – has been discovered by divers working with science teams from the University of St Andrews.
Doggerland, a huge area of dry land that stretched from Scotland to Denmark was slowly submerged by water between 18,000 BC and 5,500 BC.

Divers from oil companies have found remains of a ‘drowned world’ with a population of tens of thousands – which might once have been the ‘real heartland’ of Europe.

A team of climatologists, archaeologists and geophysicists has now mapped the area using new data from oil companies – and revealed the full extent of a ‘lost land’ once roamed by mammoths….

The area was once the ‘real heartland’ of Europe and was hit by ‘a devastating tsunami’, the researchers claim. The wave was part of a larger process that submerged the low-lying area over the course of thousands of years.

Those are my recommendations for today.  Now it’s your turn.  What are you reading and blogging about?