Rothman At-Large

Ten Ways Trump Jeopardizes Even His Fellow Billionaires' Wealth

March 26, 2018

Ouch. If you own stocks, how did you feel when Wall Street suffered its worst week in two years? The S&P dropped six percent.

 

Donald Trump had been pestering the media to report more on the stock market, up since his election. Now at least one TV financial pundit was joking about Trump’s crazy trade policies and the possibility of The Donald shorting stocks after pumping them.

 

You could say, “Oh, that was just the action of the week, a mix of tariff worries and jitters over rising interest rates. Things will be fine.” But not so, long term, if Trump remains in the Oval Office.

 

Elections have consequences for your wallet, and I’ve got a two-word economic solution for American investors of all ideologies, from the Koch Brothers to multimillionaire Nancy Pelosi. Impeach now.

 

I’m not deluded that the House Speaker Paul Ryan and the other powers in the Republican-dominated Congress will see this column, much less act on it—they’re too busy reading ring-wing publications and watching Fox News and soliciting Koch-style plutocrats for campaign cash. Still, we can at least fantasize and maybe even look forward to a Democratic Congress willing to do the obvious.

 

Even if I were one of the Koch Brothers, Trump would scare me. I would be funneling as much campaign cash as possible to Red state congress members in danger of getting primaried by fanatical Trumpists, and along the way I would be ditching my economic dogmas as well. I would also join billionaire Tom Steyer in running anti-Trump commercials, and if I were a Fortune 500 CEO I would threaten Rupert Murdoch with an ad boycott of Fox and urge other corporate leaders to do the same if the network continued to encourage and even advise an aspiring dictator.

 

Many advertisers ran away from Breitbart News. It’s time to do the same to all of Fox, beyond specific programs—not just for reasons of morality but also practicality. Cut Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal a break for the virtues of the news side. Hooray even to the editorial page for not giving Trump a free pass on tariff issues. Still, the WSJ really needs to go all the way with a passionate call for impeachment, based on general lack of fitness for officer, of which Trump’s Dow-busting tariff tantrums are just one example. Immediately deserving a full-fledged ad boycott is Sinclair Broadcasting, which inserts Trumpist propaganda into local news programming.

 

Why my strong views, especially since I normally dislike the idea of advertising boycotts? Civic reasons count most—these are “Fire in a crowded theater” times. But not everyone on Wall Street and executives suites will care. So in considering ad boycotts of Fox, Sinclair and the like, here are ten reasons why Donald Trump is a long-term threat even to billionaire plutocrats. Yes, exceptions could exist. While Jim Cramer was joking, Trump cronies just might be playing shady market games for real, such as shortening the S&P via straws, based on inside information.

 

Reason #1: Trump is Warren Buffett in reverse—a 71-year-old child focused on his emotions and on the short term, as the threatened trade war with China shows. The Chinese have been shafting us in areas such as intellectual property. But Trump’s bellicose talk, mainly meant to appeal to his die-hard supporters, not solve the problem, made the Chinese seem like good guys by comparison. Outbursts like this are doing major damage to America as a brand, not just for now but perhaps for years to come.

 

Reason #2: Sleaze is bad for business. If you were a foreigner, which would you rather invest in—a banana republic or an America with a regulated Wall Street? The longer Trump remains in power, the less chance of the Securities and Exchange Commission being able to do its job. Tobacco and healthcare-related stock buys did lead to the resignations of the Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after the media caught on. She was hardly Trump’s BFF. But then consider other Trump people such as investor Carl Icahn, who resigned as a Trump advisor amid concerns over an energy-related conflict. With conflicts of interest galore, the Trump and Kushner families are hardly setting examples for the rest of Washington, and regulatory agencies such as the SEC may ultimately suffer. In fact, they are at already at risk at the expense of investors, savers and the country at large.

 

Reason #3: Trump loves to portray himself as King of Debt and in his business life ran away from creditors. Republicans shouldn’t let him treat the country the same way. Of course, with tax cuts for the rich bloating the deficit, Capitol Hill itself is no small part of the problem. Trump and the GOP Congress, alas, are each other’s enablers. Thank you, Trump and friends, for increasing the likelihood of rising interest rates, as deficits grow. Economists overwhelmingly agree that growth won’t be enough to make up for the massive tax cuts.

 

Reason #4: Nuclear war is bad for business, even if you’re a Koch. Wall Street loves certainty. Trump and his new national security advisor, John Bolton, worship war and chaos.

 

Reason #5: Climate change isn’t so helpful, either. Granted, the Koch brothers are heavily invested in fossil fuel and related industries. But eventually mass anger may prevail over political donations. We’re starting to see this now in the area of gun control. The fossil fuel interests may in time be the new NRA, especially as massive flooding and other horrors of climate change become even more visible than now and insurance companies pay out still more billions. Let’s not expect immediate miracles in either area. But in the Koch Brothers’ place, I would be looking ahead and phasing in renewables in a major way even if fossil fuels, chemicals and the like are their major show now. Solar and wind are opportunities, as shown by employment figures, and yet Trump is fighting them at every turn.

 

Reason #6: Trump doesn’t understand technology, especially dependent on free trade. The parts in your tablet or laptop come from all over, and not all the raw materials are available in the U.S. In a related vein, see Reason #8.

 

Reason #7: He can’t even figure out the blue-collar economy, as shown by his lack of appreciation of the damage that mindless tariffs can do to our industries reliant on affordable steel.

 

Reason #8: As first bigot-in-chief, Trump is making America less inviting for ambitious immigrants whose hard work in the end will create more American jobs in tech and elsewhere. Capitalize the J word and we’re talking Jobs indeed—yes, Apple founder Steve Jobs, the biological son Abdulfattah “John” Jandali, a Syrian-born Muslim.

 

Reason #9: America’s wealth distribution is already horrific, and Trump and his friends seem keen on worsening it through tax scams and attacks on Social Security and the rest despite all the populist rhetoric to the contrary. On the surface, the looting would appear to be billionaire-friendly. It is not. The tax cut money instead could have gone for better roads and other infrastructure to make American business more competitive. But that’s not all. Without a thriving middle class to buy goods and services, the corporate investments of the wealthy are worth less in the end. Moreover,  when enough voters wake up, there may be calls not just for stiff estate taxes but also huge taxes on the actual wealth of living billionaires, beyond their dividends, capital gains and other income. Ready for the guillotine, dear billionaires? Not your necks, but your holdings.

Reason #10: Trump, regardless of rhetoric, couldn’t care less about health insurance costs and the healthcare system in general. By bringing so much chaos to the insurance marketplace, the policies of Trump and the GOP are reducing job mobility and making the U.S. economy less efficient. Also, workers could spend more on good and services in general if 18 percent of our GDP didn’t have to go to healthcare industry.


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The Impossible Dream: The Speech Trump Should Have Given

February 1, 2018

Brilliant scientists from MIT and Berkeley deployed a powerful ray gun against President Trump before his State of the Union speech. This brain-altering gadget did not kill him. Instead it jacked up his IQ 50 points as intended, gave him a conscience and forced him to tell the truth. Wait. I’m dreaming. But here’s an excerpt from the speech President Trump should have delivered, post rays. 

First, I promise to stop my crazy Tweets against Kim Jong-un—to lower the chance of nuclear war. Proactive nukes are off the table as an option against North Korea or any other nation. Enough said. I’ll use my Tweeting time instead to make love—with Melania—rather than war. Speaking of which, no more affairs on the side. Enjoy my big hands, Sweetie!

Second, I apologize for selling out the United States. Failing to divest myself of my existing holdings, in a meaningful way, has clearly violated the foreign emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.

All along, Vladimir Putin and friends have owned me at least indirectly. But no longer. Tonight I am coming clean and releasing thousands of documents showing how I hoped to make millions off Russian deals at the expense of our country. I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’ll cooperate with investigations into collusion and possible money laundering and obstruction of justice. Not only will I ask my attack dogs on Capitol Hill to end their smears against Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, I’ll work with Congress on new legislation to end clandestine foreign influence on American voters. It continues to this day.

I also apologize to former FBI Director James Comey and other victims of my cover-up efforts, including the Real News journalists I’ve smeared. Comey…terrific guy. Sorry, Jim! I agree—your loyalty should be to the U.S. Constitution, not me. Scary to think I could try to turn GOP into the Anti-Law and Order Party.

Let’s hope that the judicial system will recognize my current good intentions and show due mercy. If I must go to jail, I’ll be a model prisoner.

Third, I admit I’ve been a divisive bigot. I deeply regret my racist comments on “s***hole countries.” Tonight I am asking for more foreign aid for low-income nations in Africa and elsewhere, as well as meaningful disaster relief for our own brown-skilled Americans in Puerto Rico. Foreign aid of all kinds takes up just a speck of our four trillion-dollar federal budget. More for aid can mean less money for bullets. Here’s to American soft power! I don’t need a bloated defense budget to show how big my hands are.

I also want to acknowledge that “some very fine people” were not on both sides when Nazis and others clashed in Charlottesville. I deeply regret that hate crimes have risen under my presidency.

Furthermore, Speaker of the House Nancy Pilosi is right. My immigration policy has aimed to make America white again. Instead of seeking to slash the number of legal immigrants, I am asking tonight that the quotas be quadrupled to make us a more more vibrant nation.

I passionately agree that Tech As We Know It Would Not Exist without Immigrants. The Dow would be thousands of points lower without the talent and hard work of immigrants.

Fourth, I admit that global warming is not a Chinese conspiracy. Clean energy counts. It sickens me to think of the onerous tariffs I’ve imposed on Chinese solar panels. Many more people work in solar and wind power than in the coal mines, and my actions could cost thousands of American solar jobs if I don’t reverse them. I’ll support research and other measures to make U.S. solar panel manufactures more competitive without harming the American now at work installing panels.

Fifth, but of equal importance to the other points, I acknowledge I’ve been less of a Robin Hood than a Sheriff of Nottingham. I’ve helped the Republican Congress steal billions from the poor to benefit me and my billionaire buddies. This has to stop. We need to make the rich pay their share. I will investigate ways to undo the damage from the tax cuts. For example, instead of asking for more military spending, I’ll request major defense cuts, as noted—so we can spend more on healthcare in an efficient way, education, Social Security and other social services, as well as small-d democratic financing of infrastructure. No need for new highway tolls that raise the cost of commuting for the poor and middle class. They’ll get free digital passes while the rich pay.

Likewise in the economic area, I now recognize that a high Dow does not necessarily mean prosperity on Main Street, especially since workers claim a much smaller share of national income than in the past. I love investors, but not everyone has money directly or indirectly in the stock market. And speaking of investors, you bet I’ll retain and strengthen financial protections for them and savers. Apologizes to Elizabeth Warren and other consumer advocates. Fantastic woman.

And finally, a huge hug and passionate kisses for my dear Melania right now. (Gestures for her to rise and walk over to him.). Melania, come to Big Hands! Like I’ve said, no more messin’ around. I can see why you’re POed. I promise to love you enough for us to arrive at the next SOTU together, if I haven’t been forced by then to resign in disgrace. If behind bars, I’ll be a true gentleman if they allow conjugal visits. None of this dossier stuff.


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‘Across Two Novembers’: The Diary of a Blind Pepys

October 31, 2017

Going blind was a major fear of Samuel Pepys, the 17th-century English diarist (he did not). 

Still, Pepys would have loved Across Two Novembers, by David L. Faucheux, a Louisiana man now in his early 50s, who, as a teenager, did lose his sight to glaucoma. 

Don’t let Faucheux’s blindness put you off. He can still hear, taste, smell, and feel life’s joys, and the one sense he lacks he makes up in wit and thoughtfulness. And so Pepys would have enjoyed Across despite his fears, and, in fact, given Faucheux’s inspiring resilience, maybe the book would even have assuaged them a little.

Faucheux, yes, has suffered his share of woes. He made Phi Beta Kappa and earned a masters in library science at Louisiana State University. But no full-time permanent library job ensued, just internships and freelance work reviewing audiobooks for Library Journal. Too many managers in the library world today care more about skills such as prowess in technology---a challenge to many blind people of Faucheux’s generation in this era of graphical interfaces---than about a passion for books. And Faucheux wanted to stay in the American South, so dear to him, as a long-time resident of Lafayette, a gourmet paradise said to have more restaurants per capita than New Orleans or New York. Hence, no big-time library career.

Despite Faucheux’s misfortunes, however, he has not written a tear jerker. Rather he both lives and writes about his life with dry humor and aplomb; and in his diary, set in the years 2013 and 2014 and subtitled A Year in the Life of a Blind Bibliophile, he is far more eager to educate us and share his joys than to seek our sympathy. What else to say about a trivia-loving blind man who dreams of appearing on his beloved Jeopardy? Or who can jet off to Paris with friends, then dig up such gems as a critic’s critique of the Eiffel Tower, “a black asparagus.”

Before going on, let me reveal that I myself am a friend of Faucheux---he contacted me out of the blue after hearing me on Jim Bohannon’s radio show, and for several years I posted his entries to Blind Chance, perhaps the world’s first regular audioblog by a blind person. But I’d talk up his diary even if I did not know him. As an example of Faucheux’s prose style and scarcity of self-pity, at least as expressed in public, I’ll quote him on a kitchen accident: "I nicked my left little finger tip while peeling potatoes. It bled a bit. I hope I do not have a trail of red drops along the counter and on the living room carpet. I love eating, and I like the idea of cooking, but I dislike actually cooking; you can become a casualty! I’d rather paraphrase Cold Stone Creamery’s catchy trademark this way: I’ll dream it and have someone else ice cream it. Laura Martinez, I am not. She was featured several years ago on a news program as being the first totally blind chef. I am amazed. I wonder who her support people were. Even using a potato peeler, I have to be careful, because it can skid on a bump on the potato surface and catch on a finger, gouging it.” 

Here's another Faucheux sample. Recalling the late Nader, his service dog at LSU, Faucheux wrote in the blog that his yellow lab enjoyed the university library. “He seemed to like to snooze under the table while bits of knowledge rained down on his slumbers. It’s basically easy to handle guide dogs in the library as their book needs are very small.” Here’s a Nader-related MP3 from the blog.

To be sure, Across Novembers may try your patience at times---it is not a book for all. 

You may love the details in the above depiction of Faucheux’s kitchen adventures. But you might not be so fond of lists of what he ate at certain times. Instead you might favor a narrative with a well-defined story arc and only selective details, as opposed to a Pepys-style diary. Still, that is issue with the genre---even as a contemporary of Pepys you might have not have enjoyed the famous diarist’s work.

If, on the other hand, you are a patient, literate reader and love books, food, trivia and travel and can appreciate the sheer joie de vivre that permeates Faucheux’s pages, then you should give Across a try. I would especially recommend it to librarians and others working with people with special needs, including vocationally related ones. Based on various statistics and personal experiences, David Faucheux says three-fifths or more of blind people cannot find work. If nothing else, given Faucheux’s intelligence, curiosity, talent, and perseverance, his diary reminds us what we’re missing when even gifted people like him are left in the cold. As a bonus, disability historians in the future may find Across Two Novembers to be a treasure trove.

You can buy Across Two Novembers, self-published, at independent bookstores, Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and elsewhere or, yes, ask your local library to order it directly. The ebook costs only around $5.

Related: Upbeat review from AccessWorld Magazine---published by the American Federation for the Blind---which I did not see until I finished the above.


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