Why Hillary Clinton will succeed as president: She listens


When you think of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, chances are you think of her at a scene like the one above.

In a diner or a cafe. In someone’s living room or kitchen. In a small group or on a small stage. Around a table, taking people’s questions and listening to people’s concerns.

Listening is a skill that most women have had to master, because too many men tend to interrupt, seldom giving women a chance to put in their two cents. Not everyone is a good listener. Hillary Clinton, however, is very good at listening to people.

Some candidates have large rallies with wildly cheering supporters. Hillary Clinton certainly has had her share of rallies and speeches. But Clinton has always preferred the smaller venue, the town hall meeting, the sitting-around-the-table talk. Instead of just telling people what she wants to do, she asks people what issues affect them, what topics she should tackle, what actions they want her to take. Then she uses those answers to broaden her policies. As a story in The Atlantic put it, the strategy is to “build the candidate’s credentials as one that connects with voters, knows the issues they care about, and makes it clear she isn’t taking anything for granted.”

When Clinton was considering a 2000 Senate run, she famously went on a “listening tour” to all parts of New York state. She started in July 1999, traveling from New York City and its suburbs to upstate New York and all points in between. She visited all 62 of the state’s counties and talked to all kinds of residents on farms, in diners, in venues small and large. She always carried a notebook so she could take notes on what people were saying.

Clinton and her constituents-to-be discussed issues ranging from taxes to jobs to health care to education to college tuition to dairy price supports. At the time, the approach was derided by many in the media, but it worked. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani abandoned the race, and Clinton beat GOP Rep. Rick Lazio by 12 percentage points.

Clinton used the same approach in her presidential campaigns for 2008 and 2016. Her 2008 campaign was launched with a video in which she looked straight at the camera and said, “Let’s talk. Let’s chat. Let’s start a dialogue about your ideas and mine. … Let the conversation begin.” In the more sophisticated video launch for the 2016 race, the message was, “I’m doing something new, too. I’m running for president … So I’m hitting the road, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.”

In this election, how many photos, videos, and ads have we seen from the Clinton campaign that started with a question from her audience, often from a young girl or teenager? Sometimes the questions were about bullying. Sometimes a girl asked if Clinton would be paid the same as a male president. Sometimes a teen asked about body image. Clinton’s answer was often followed with a quick hug.

When Clinton was secretary of state, she visited 112 countries, spending 401 days on the road. It was her own State Department listening tour, learning about the concerns of America’s allies and not-so-allied nations. It was aimed at repairing the damage done to America’s reputation and relationships during the years of the George W. Bush administration. According to a separate story in The Atlantic:

The secretary, despite all the telecommuting options available to her, reinforced the power of being there — in a place, in a context, in a moment.

A July story on Vox by Ezra Klein explored what he called “the Gap” between the negative public image some hold of Clinton and the real human being known by her friends, staffers, and colleagues. Klein interviewed many who know Clinton well, and here’s his conclusion:

Every single person brought up, in some way or another, the exact same quality they feel leads Clinton to excel in governance and struggle in campaigns. …

Hillary Clinton, they said over and over again, listens. …

The first few times I heard someone praise Clinton’s listening, I discounted it. After hearing it five, six, seven times, I got annoyed by it. What a gendered compliment: “She listens.” It sounds like a caricature of what we would say about a female politician.

But after hearing it 11, 12, 15 times, I began to take it seriously, ask more questions about it. And as I did, the Gap began to make more sense. …

Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination by forming a coalition. And part of how she forms coalitions is by listening to her potential partners — both to figure out what they need and to build her relationships with them. This is not a skill all politicians possess.

A 2005 academic paper (published version gives only the abstract; this is a pdf) from the International Journal of Listening by University of Maryland communications professor Andrew D. Wolvin described the benefits and effectiveness of Clinton’s listening approach as it applies to different styles of leadership. As Wolvin said in the abstract: “Public leadership has been conceptualized as the leader who has the ability to shape a vision and to articulate that vision. Before the leader can shape a vision, however, he/she needs to listen to constituents to know how that vision should be best framed and best implemented.”

The listening leader communicates with his/her followers in order to understand their needs, motivations, and issues. These understandings serve as the foundation for solid decision-making to further the relationship/organization to its goals. “Good leaders are good listeners.” …

Leaders who are good listeners “do not fake attention, pretend to comprehend, or ignore members. Instead, they work as hard as they can to better understand what members are saying and how those comments affect the group and its goals.”

Sounds like Hillary Clinton, doesn’t it?

When Hillary Clinton is sworn in as president, she’s not going to have time to go on a new listening tour of the country. She won’t have time to do one as a transition project, either. But as a start, according to a Politico story, she’s planning on reaching out to listen to allies that have been “rattled by Trump’s candidacy.”

In a way, Trump’s outlandish comments — demanding Mexico pay for a border wall, questioning U.S. support for NATO allies, and so much more — gives Clinton cover to be unusually direct about her desire to shore up global faith in U.S. leadership in the post-Obama era.

We hope the new President Clinton will continue President Obama’s practice of reading 10 letters each day that were sent to him via email or snail mail. The letters, chosen by staff in the Office of Presidential Correspondence, aren’t necessarily positive or negative. They just represent issues that the country is thinking and talking about. They might be from children, veterans, people out of a job, people who need health care, people with problems, people with ideas, and just everyday Americans who want to get something off their chest or share something with the leader of the free world. Reading those 10 letters each day can be Clinton’s way of listening to the American people.

I like the idea that our president will be a listener in chief, as well as a commander in chief.

After all, when has Donald Trump ever listened to anybody?

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Oct. 23, 2016.

#NastyWomen will ensure YUUUGE Hillary Clinton victory


Donald Trump is going to regret referring to the next president of the United States as a nasty woman.

Of all of the insults he delivered and the lies he told at the third and final (thank you, Jesus) presidential debate, his flippant “Such a nasty woman” was his lowest comment of the night. Especially as it came not long after he denied the sexual assault complaints about unwanted kissing and groping from multiple women and claimed that “No one respects women more than I do.”

Let’s face it: The Orange Menace is way out of his league in this race. Way over his beaver-tailed head.

It was outrageous that Trump threatened our system of democracy with his claim that he wasn’t sure if he would accept the election’s outcome if he lost. “I’ll keep you in suspense” was his line. By the next day, he claimed that of course he would accept the outcome — “If I win.”

Well, Donald, I hate to break it to you, but you’re going to lose. Bigly. You’re behind in every national poll and most state polls. You have no conceivable path to 270 electoral votes, believe me. And you won’t admit it. Sad!

The women of this country hardly needed another reason to vote against Trump, but they got one last night. #NastyWoman and #NastyWomen exploded on Twitter, along with #BadHombres, another slur Trump used in an apparent move to show how “in the know” he is about the Hispanic community. All of this was at the same time that taco trucks were ringing the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas (surely you remember #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner?). Cities across America are experiencing the same public presence of taco trucks. And get this: They’ve been registering people to vote.

Enterprising companies quickly started offering NastyWomen merchandise. You can get pillows, needlework kits, T-shirts, mugs, jewelry, and more.

No, you’re toast, Donald. Your brand is tanking. Your new hotel in Washington, D.C., can’t fill up its overpriced rooms, and you’ve been forced to lower the nightly rates. No one is buying your ties (made outside the U.S.), and associations are not booking meetings at your hotels. You’ve become toxic in business.

So, come on, #NastyWomen. Let’s give Hillary Clinton a YUUUGE victory come Nov. 8. Even if Donald Trump refuses to accept the outcome, the rest of the country will. And we’ll be glad not to hear that whiny voice and see that orange face anymore. Believe me.

Clinton peels off voters of Eastern European ancestry from Trump

Pennsylvania voters waiting to attend a Clinton event. Some may be new — and surprising — recruits.

Pennsylvania voters waiting to attend a Clinton event. Some may be new — and surprising — recruits.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be adding to the factors that could cost him the election, but in a way his campaign didn’t see coming.

As if Trump hasn’t inflicted enough damage on his campaign, and as his campaign and poll numbers sink further and further, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is seeing her poll numbers climb by gaining support from areas and voters that don’t usually go for Democrats.

You could add up all of the groups Trump has insulted and that’s likely a majority right there, especially as Trump’s numbers among women keep tanking because of the Access Hollywood hot-mic tape and the multiple groping/kissing allegations. But one group of normally Republican-leaning voters offers a special opportunity: the millions of U.S. voters of Eastern European heritage.

The Clinton campaign is targeting these voters mainly because of Trump’s support of Putin and Trump’s controversial comments about NATO. Many of these are working-class voters in the swing states (less swingy than they were weeks ago) of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Even if the number of voters changing sides isn’t that big, those numbers can make a difference in swing states. And once again, this demonstrates the thoroughness of the Clinton campaign.

According to a story from Reuters:

“We have been absolutely petrified … we can’t believe the statements Donald Trump is making,” said Andrij Dobriansky, spokesman for the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, an umbrella group for about a million Ukrainian-Americans.

Marina Kuchar, a Ukrainian-American from Pennsylvania who arrived in the United States in 2000, said she liked many Republican ideas. But Kuchar, 44, told Reuters in an interview she would not vote for Trump “because he thinks Putin is smart.” …

The Clinton team for months has been visiting Eastern European-American parades and festivals, said John McCarthy, director of the campaign’s “heritage community outreach.”

“Our activists, who have been out front and center at these events, will have people come up to them and say: ‘I’ve never voted for a Democrat before, but Donald Trump’s pro-Kremlin ties are … giving me second thoughts,’” McCarthy said.

The conservative American Enterprise Institute agrees:

Trump seems to finally realize that his bizarre embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and questioning of the U.S. obligation to defend its NATO allies, has alienated a critical voting bloc he needs to win the White House — Americans of Eastern European descent. … Trump’s gushing over the Russian autocrat could cost him on Election Day, when many of these voters decide they can’t cast their ballot for a man who loves a KGB-trained Russian dictator who is threatening their ancestral homelands. …

Putin is despised by millions of Polish Americans, as well as Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian Americans, who either escaped to this country from behind the Iron Curtain or whose parents or grandparents did. These voters know what it is like to live in a police state. …

Ohio has at least 865,204 Eastern European American voters, including 420,149 Polish-Americans, 183,593 Hungarian Americans, 118,975 Slovak Americans, and 40,742 Ukrainian Americans. These are the white, ethnic working-class Reagan Democrats whom Trump is expecting to carry him to victory in Ohio. In a tight race, he can’t afford to lose any of these voters over his Putin bromance.

The story is the same in Florida, with 747,243 voters of Eastern European descent; Pennsylvania, with 1,481,914 voters of Eastern European ancestry; Wisconsin, 666,194; and Michigan, 1,075,800 (all figures are from AEI). AEI puts the total number of Eastern European ancestry voters at nearly 6 million and points out that many of them are concentrated in swing states. The Reuters story gave a higher estimate of more than 15 million voters of central and Eastern European ancestry.

A loss of some of these voters is cutting into Trump’s angry-white-guy base. Some of these are factory workers who have lost jobs, whether it’s in the auto or steel industry. Some were coal miners, or they might have lost some other blue-collar job. It’s not enough to turn them all off — Trump still has a huge edge among white men without college degrees — but he’s doing worse among white voters than Mitt Romney did in 2012, according to the latest figures from FiveThirtyEight.com. Trump is winning white voters by only 13 percentage points. Romney beat President Obama by 17 points with white voters, and he still lost. Trump would need to best Clinton by 22 points with white voters to have a chance.

I suspect we all know at least one person who was laid off during the Great Recession and who still is angry about it. Many of these are the ones we see at Trump rallies, even though the average annual income of a Trump voter during the primaries was $72,000, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Half of my heritage is Eastern European. Although my steelworker grandfather is long gone, I doubt he would be voting for Hillary Clinton. (My grandma, on the other hand, might have, after directing a few choice words at my grandpa in Serbo-Croatian.) But they were immigrants and staunch anti-Communists, having seen what happened to their homeland under Tito, and they would be furious that an American presidential candidate was flirting with the idea of getting cozy with Russia.

Trump can hardly afford to lose the normally Republican-leaning voters of Eastern European ancestry. Politico went so far as to call Trump’s Putin-embracing gamble “Trump’s Russian roulette.”

The Hillary Clinton campaign is meeting with swing-state leaders of Eastern European descent, encouraging ethnic debate watch parties and phone banks, and scheduling conference calls with Clinton allies from her State Department days as part of an aggressive effort to capitalize on Donald Trump’s embrace of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his equivocal support for NATO. …

“I believe in our community, in many Eastern European communities, there is a high percentage of … voters that do still take foreign policy seriously because of our own immigrant story, or their strong support for NATO, that would lead one to be a supporter and vote for Hillary Clinton,” said Steve Rukavina, a leader in the national Croatian community based in Pennsylvania and helping to organize ethnic engagement efforts for Clinton in the state, in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee’s National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council. “We believe that can make a difference in this election, in any swing state that could be very close. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

In 2012, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham famously said, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” Donald Trump needs the votes of 70 percent of those angry white guys — more than any Republican has won, even in the 1984 landslide win by Ronald Reagan. Looks like at least some of them might be turning against the GOP nominee this time around.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Oct. 16, 2016.

It’s no fun to be a Republican in 2016

10192015cryingelephantinroomAnecdotal reports say women are lining up in droves to vote at early voting sites, just to vote against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Early voting figures, in terms of absentee ballots received, seem to favor Democrats overall, based on the party of the voter requesting an early ballot. Even in Florida, where Republicans have historically won the early voting race, Democrats have just about caught up, according to a story on Politico. And Democrats are crushing the GOP when it comes to voter registration.

Democrats have submitted 503,000 and Republicans fewer than 60,000 of the 2 million registration forms collected this year by about 700 third-party groups, according to the 2016 data posted online by the state Division of Elections.

The numbers underscore how much stronger Clinton’s ground game is in Florida and how weak the Republican National Committee’s is on behalf of Donald Trump, longtime Florida political consultants say. If Trump loses Florida, he can’t win the White House. And polls already show that Clinton is starting to move farther ahead of the Republican in Florida. … The big groups that are registering tens of thousands of people tend to sign up poor, young, and minority voters — that is, those who disproportionately vote Democratic.

When GOP officials tried to counter these numbers, claiming that they had the edge, they were described as “lying sacks of shit” by longtime Florida Republican consultant and Trump critic Rick Wilson, according to Politico. “Combined, in-person early votes and absentee ballots will likely account for more than half of the votes — about 55 percent — before Election Day this year,” the story said.

Other stories told the same tale. In fact, a story from PoliticsUSA reported the Clinton campaign’s tally and prediction that she could win the election with the early votes, even before Election Day. Some of those figures, per Clinton campaign Chairman Robby Mook:

  • Record numbers of people are voting by mail in Florida — 2.7 million have requested ballots compared to 1.8 million in 2012. Democrats are winning the vote-by-mail requests. Hispanic vote-by-mail requests are up 77 percent, and Asian voters are up 80 percent.
  • Twice as many Democrats are voting in person in Iowa. Three times as many Democrats are returning ballots.
  • In Ohio, 950,000 voter absentee applications have been received. One of every six is from Democratic Cuyahoga County.
  • There a big spike in early voting in the Democratic stronghold of Northern Virginia.
  • Democratic turnout is very high in Democratic counties in Wisconsin.

Poor Republicans. You could almost feel sorry for members of the Grand Old Party — if they hadn’t brought it on themselves by nominating a xenophobic, misogynistic, sexist, racist, Islamophobic (did I miss any?) narcissist. Note I said almost.

Trump’s situation has gotten only worse with the release of the hot-mic Access Hollywood tape on which he bragged about his sexual assault of women, claiming that he was entitled to “grab them by the pussy” because he was a star. That doesn’t include the years’ worth of tapes from Howard Stern’s radio show, on which Trump was a regular guest and bragged about sexual exploits, which are now coming to light. Now that women Trump has assaulted in the past are coming forward in double digits to tell their stories, the Orange Menace denies all. He’s even started to say that his accusers are too ugly for him to want to assault. Class act, that guy.

But Trump’s poll numbers are dropping faster than his ratings for The Apprentice. Most media outlets project that he has almost no path to the presidency. FiveThirtyEight.com currently gives Clinton an 84.9 percent chance of winning to Trump’s 15.1.

So what are Republicans doing? After the Access Hollywood #PussyGate tape, many dropped their support of Trump. But true Trumpeters objected, angrily complaining about the lack of support for the would-be groper-in-chief. So many GOPers had to jump back on the Trump train. Either way, they can’t win. And that could mean the loss of more Senate and even House seats.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is flat-out refusing to answer any questions about Trump. At a town hall meeting in Wisconsin, House Speaker Paul Ryan avoided mentioning the GOP nominee’s name. Both men, of course, are on record as having endorsed Trump.

As Trump sounds more and more unhinged by the day, with conspiracy theories about rigged elections, the media, the Democratic establishment, and world banks, it’s better to listen to first lady Michelle Obama, who already wowed the country at the Democratic National Convention with her message, “When they go low, we go high.”

If you haven’t listened to her Clinton campaign speech in New Hampshire in which she annihilates Trump without ever mentioning his name, you owe it to yourself. Trust me.

And by all means, vote on Nov. 8 for the blue team.

Recalling election night 2008 in Grant Park: Thanks, Obama


As the Obama presidency winds down, we all have memories of times over the last eight years of how Barack Obama showed us what it means to be a successful president. These are my memories, starting at the very beginning.

Election night 2008 was really a time of hope. Even Mother Nature cooperated; the temperature that Election Day was in the 70s in Chicago (in November), ensuring that the huge crowds expected at Grant Park wouldn’t freeze. Everyone there thought, “Yes, we can.”

That was before the insults, the backstabbing, and the lies. Before Republicans huddled together and vowed not to support any of Obama’s initiatives. Before blowhard Rush Limbaugh announced on his radio talk show that “I want him to fail.” Before the tea party. Before Rep. Joe Wilson yelled, “You lie!” during a 2009 address to a joint session of Congress.

No, on that night, we all still had hope. And thanks to the Obama presidency, we still do.

On that election night in 2008, our family rode the El downtown to join the huge number of people waiting for the president-elect, excitedly checking election returns on our cell phones. As we walked down Roosevelt to Columbus Avenue, we passed the many street entrepreneurs hawking Obama buttons and T-shirts. Some had photos of him along with Martin Luther King with phrases like “The dream lives on.” Some (which I saw many African-American girls wearing) said, “I love Michelle.” Some had a picture of Obama, Michelle, and the girls saying, “Our new first family.” One simple one had Obama’s picture with the words, “Our president is black.” Needless to say, the hawkers were doing a booming business.

Because our older daughter worked for the campaign, we were lucky enough to be in the center section, which means that we would be able see the new first family, although from a distance of 150 feet. We joined the throngs in front of the stage after passing through multiple layers of security to watch with some 350,000 others. Luckily, the jumbotrons set up around the park allowed everyone to see.

There’s always media overkill in every election. But that night, there were dozens upon dozens of media booths set up in an “L” formation at the back of the fenced speaking area. Besides U.S. media, there were TV stations and media outlets from around the world. Everyone knew that this would be a historic night.

As we watched CNN on the jumbotrons, it was left to Wolf Blitzer to give us the news that Barack Obama had just been elected the 44th president of the United States.

The entire park erupted. There were cheers, tears, hugs, fist pumps, and screams. People jumped in the air and exchanged high fives. (Even now, I choke up when I watch this.) Attending the victory rally meant being a part of history.

Before Obama came out, we all watched McCain’s concession speech on the jumbotrons. Being a Democratic crowd, we were polite, and many applauded McCain, even though some of his supporters in Phoenix still booed at the mention of Obama’s name. I guess some things don’t change. (We couldn’t bring ourselves to applaud Sarah Palin, though.)

Obama and the new first family came out to thundering and overwhelming cheers. It was hard to see through the waves of personal cameras and cell phones everyone held up to capture the moment. Behind us was what looked like 200 TV cameramen and still photographers.

This was truly a world event. On the way out, my husband and I, both wearing our Obama T-shirts, were interviewed by a reporter for a TV network in Spain. Everywhere we saw cameras from all over: Israeli TV, the BBC, Japanese stations, etc., etc. We spoke to a woman in the crowd who said she was from the Czech Republic but that she just had to be in Chicago on that Tuesday night.

After the rally, perfect strangers hugged each other. Groups performed impromptu Obama cheers. Shortly after midnight, we traveled through the West Side on our way home on the El. Both black and white families on the trains talked to their children about the significance of being there that night. At each stop, we could see and hear jubilant young African-American men running through the streets of the West Side, yelling, “OBAMA WON! OBAMA WON!” It reminded me of the pride shown in Chicago’s 1983 mayoral election when Harold Washington became the city’s first black mayor. Later I would see that these celebrations were mirrored around the country.

As an Illinoisan, I had the chance to see Obama a few times in person when he was running for the Senate in 2004. I even got to talk to him once.

The first time was in March 2004, when he was in a crowded field running for the Democratic nomination for Senate. Multimillionaire businessman Blair Hull was leading in the polls, mostly on the strength of heavy advertising and sponsoring bus trips of seniors to Canada to buy cheaper prescription drugs. But Hull was undone by ugly reports about his divorce concerning threats against his wife.

The race became Obama’s to win. One Saturday, my then-17-year-old daughter, some of her friends, and I went to a West Side AME church for a campaign rally featuring Obama and his family. Obama was a state senator, and many Illinois lawmakers joined him at the rally. Michelle talked about why she married him. Malia and Sasha must have been 6 and 3 and were running around the church, as you would expect kids that age to act.

When Obama started speaking, it didn’t take long for everyone in the room to be hooked. I couldn’t tell you everything he said. He clearly spoke against the Iraq War and talked about his successful legislation requiring police interrogations to be videotaped, including how he met with police across the state, persuading them of the need for such a law.

The entire rally was much like a church service, complete with preachers, choirs, and church musicians. When they passed the plate to collect campaign donations, I found myself writing a $100 check for my first-ever contribution to a political campaign. I got to shake his hand as he made his way down the aisle.

Obama went on to win the primary with 53 percent of the vote. His GOP opponent, Jack Ryan, was forced to drop out because of ugly details from the records of his divorce from actress Jeri Ryan (total side note: She was the Borg Babe, 7 of 9 on Star Trek: Voyager). After Obama’s star turn at the Democratic convention, Republicans were wary of taking him on, and the best they could do was conservative Alan Keyes, who actually lived in Maryland at the time and scrambled to establish Illinois residency. Obama would go on to win in November with 70 percent of the vote.

Before that, though, he attended a fundraiser for our local Democratic organization, the Democratic img_0809Party of Oak Park. Many of us brought along copies of Dreams from My Father, hoping for an autograph.

When it was my turn, he shook my hand and then signed the book. I told him that he was a good writer.

“Maybe for a politician,” he said, always self-deprecating.

“No,” I answered. “I’m an editor, and I can tell.”

Obama just looked at me and smiled as he handed me back my book.

So we head to the end of Obama’s presidency. He’s still got some speeches to give to elect Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates, and no doubt he’ll be a sought-after speaker in the years to come; how could he not be, with his rhetorical skills? He’ll write more books. He’s pledged to continue the work of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance to mentor and provide opportunities for boys and young men of color.

The Obamas will be active in setting up the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side, giving the community around Jackson Park a financial boost. I look forward to visiting and taking out-of-town guests there.

Sure, there have been disappointments, and he’s made some mistakes. How could he not? He’s a human being.

We know the long list of his accomplishments: saving the U.S. (and the world’s) economy with the economic stimulus package; saving the U.S. auto industry with the auto bailout; overseeing the creation of 15 million new jobs; signing the Affordable Care Act, which gave health coverage to 20 million more Americans; getting Osama bin Laden; getting rid of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; fighting for the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality; boosting alternative energy; getting the Iran nuclear deal; and getting the Paris climate agreement, just to name a few. (I realize some of these fall into Congress’ and the Supreme Court’s purview, but let’s not get technical.)

So soon, all we’ll have are our memories.

I’ll never be able to hear Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, and Delivered without thinking of Barack Obama.

I’ll never be able to think of Selma, Alabama, without seeing the Obama family marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the 50th anniversary of the original march, with Obama holding the hands of civil rights pioneers Rep. John Lewis and 103-year-old Amelia Boynton Robinson, both of whom almost died during that march.

I’ll never be able to watch a presidential debate without hearing Obama say, “Please proceed, governor.”

I’ll never be able to hear Amazing Grace in church without the echo in my head of Obama starting the hymn in his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, killed with eight others in the mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

And I’ll never forget this photo and what it meant for a little boy to feel that the president’s hair was just like his. The magnificent photos taken by White House photographer Pete Souza and his staff are routinely hung on the walls of the West Wing and rotated. This one, however, has stayed up the whole Obama presidency.


Nothing left to say but: Thanks, Obama.

Originally published on Daily Kos on Oct. 9, 2016.

So NOW Republicans say Trump is unqualified?


The release of a tape with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s hot mic “Grab them by the pussy” moment appears to be the final straw for the GOP “family values” crowd.

Have they been comatose for the last 16 months?

We’ve heard outraged comments from Republicans calling for the would-be groper-in-chief to drop out. Republicans say they can’t look their daughters in the eye and say they support Trump any more. That these words are too much for their wives, sisters, and daughters.

Give me a fucking break.

You chose him, Republicans. He insulted Muslims, immigrants, refugees, Latinos, African-Americans, former prisoners of war, disabled people (I’m sure I left out several categories), and it was never enough.

And women. His behavior toward women has always been sexist and denigrating. He has five children by three wives, cheating on two of them when he traded them in for younger versions. The new Trump tape shows that he’s most likely been cheating on current wife Melania, too. He was a regular guest on Howard Stern’s show, for heaven’s sake. That didn’t give you a hint of his misogyny?

While all of you feign outrage, women aren’t surprised in the least. We’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of unwanted “attention” from men our whole lives.

Yeah. We’ve been kissed and groped when we haven’t wanted it. Sometimes by someone we knew. Sometimes by someone we were just talking to in a bar. Sometimes by a complete stranger, even when we were just walking down the street.

And just as insulting is the implication that women can’t make their own decisions about what’s best for their own bodies. That male Republican lawmakers have to pass restrictions on abortion and public funding of Planned Parenthood, even though only a fraction of what Planned Parenthood does involves abortion, and that’s not paid with public funds anyway.

Women knew from the beginning that your candidate was a pig, but you ignored all of that. You went all in for the Orange Menace, because you were so afraid that the country would elect a smart, competent woman, one whom you’ve been tearing down unfairly for decades.

So now a growing number of you are calling for Trump to drop out of the race, that he’s disqualified himself because of a 10-year-old tape. No, he disqualified himself when he descended that escalator in June 2015 and said Mexican immigrants were rapists.

Talk about self-projection. Who’s guilty of rape, or at least sexual assault, now?

Tough luck, GOP. It’s too late for Trump to drop out of the race and replace him on the ballot. States have certified their official ballots, with set candidates. Absentee ballots already have been mailed. People already have voted.

So voters of America, remember all of this when you cast your votes on Nov. 8. Donald Trump isn’t the only Republican you need to vote against.

Vote against everyone else on his ticket, too. Because they’ve been his enablers all along.

The number of Clinton newspaper endorsements is YUUUGE


The printed newspaper may be turning into a dinosaur, but many of the nation’s newspapers are fighting for relevancy in 2016 by endorsing Hillary Clinton for president.

We’ve seen endorsements by papers with conservative editorial boards for Clinton over GOP nominee Donald Trump. Papers that haven’t endorsed a Democrat in decades. Papers that have never endorsed a Democrat.

We expect endorsements for Democratic candidates by some newspapers, such as The New York Times. We don’t expect them from The Arizona Republic.

Many papers have yet to endorse. But Clinton has received the endorsements of more than 35 publications so far, including large and small newspapers and magazines; in the primaries, she received more than 80 endorsements. (The count is a compilation from Wikipedia; the Clinton campaign does not yet have a list of endorsements on its website, although it does tout the Arizona Republic endorsement on its campaign blog. But we might as well borrow some language from Trump and call it YUUUGE.)

In the primaries, Trump received the backing of four papers: The National Enquirer, the New York Observer, the New York Post, and the Santa Barbara News-Press, the only paper in California to endorse the Orange Menace. Keep in mind that David Pecker, the CEO of the National Enquirer, is a good friend of Donald Trump, and that the New York Observer is owned by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. The Santa Barbara paper has faced several internal controversies over editorial interference from the paper’s owner, and the New York Post is, well, the New York Post. Outside of these, Trump has received ZERO endorsements from any major daily newspaper editorial board in the general election.

Do newspaper endorsements even matter anymore? Most likely not, with one exception: When the endorsement goes against the newspaper’s historic trend.

A 2007 study by the Pew Research Center showed, unsurprisingly, that most people aren’t swayed by newspaper endorsements. “A local newspaper’s endorsement of a candidate would have a mixed impact on the public — 14 percent would be influenced positively, 14 percent negatively,” Pew reported. (The focus of that research was actually on whether endorsements by celebrities and other well-known political and media figures swayed voters. No surprise—they also have little impact.)

Another 2011 study, this one from the National Bureau of Economic Research, concluded that when a paper breaks a pattern of endorsing candidates from only one party, those endorsements mean more to readers. A similar conclusion came from a February 2016 study from a Northwestern University economist. “Endorsements that are classified as surprising and consistent have the largest effect,” the study says. New York Magazine went so far as to suggest that “Trump Might Make Newspaper Endorsements Matter Again.”

Whether their editorial boards are conservative or liberal, newspapers’ choices should be a no-brainer: one of the most qualified candidates ever to seek the presidency vs. a Cheeto-colored, lying braggart. The endorsements from conservative editorial boards, while pointing out what they see as Clinton’s flaws, say choosing Trump is just too dangerous for the country. Here are endorsements from five conservative papers.

The endorsement from The Arizona Republic:

The challenges the United States faces domestically and internationally demand a steady hand, a cool head and the ability to think carefully before acting.

Hillary Clinton understands this. Donald Trump does not.

Clinton has the temperament and experience to be president. Donald Trump does not.

The endorsement from The Cincinnati Enquirer:

Clinton is a known commodity with a proven track record of governing. As senator of New York, she earned respect in Congress by working across the aisle and crafting bills with conservative lawmakers. She helped 9/11 first responders get the care they needed after suffering health effects from their time at Ground Zero, and helped expand health care and family leave for military families. Clinton has spent more than 40 years fighting for women’s and children’s rights. As first lady, she unsuccessfully fought for universal health care but helped to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program that provides health care to more than 8 million kids today. She has been a proponent of closing the gender wage gap and has stood up for LGBT rights domestically and internationally, including advocating for marriage equality.

Trump is a clear and present danger to our country. He has no history of governance that should engender any confidence from voters. …

Our reservations about Clinton pale in comparison to our fears about Trump.

The endorsement from The Dallas Morning News:

Unlike Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton has experience in actual governance, a record of service and a willingness to delve into real policy.

Resume vs. resume, judgment vs. judgment, this election is no contest.

The endorsement from the Houston Chronicle:

Any one of Trump’s less-than-sterling qualities — his erratic temperament, his dodgy business practices, his racism, his Putin-like strongman inclinations and faux-populist demagoguery, his contempt for the rule of law, his ignorance — is enough to be disqualifying. His convention-speech comment, “I alone can fix it,” should make every American shudder. He is, we believe, a danger to the Republic. …

We’re confident that she is, indeed, “steady and measured and well-informed.”

The endorsement from The San Diego Union-Tribune:

Despite Trump’s insistence otherwise, [Clinton] has the better temperament to be president — and the experience, background and relationships with world leaders that we need in a president. …

Diplomacy. Collaboration. Patience. Mitt Romney, whom we endorsed for president in 2012, exhibited those same traits as the moderate governor of Massachusetts and the business-savvy savior of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Vengeful, dishonest and impulsive, Trump is no Romney. This is why Hillary Clinton is the safest candidate for voters to choose in a complex world. …

This paper has not endorsed a Democrat for president in its 148-year history. But we endorse Clinton. She’s the safe choice for the U.S. and for the world, for Democrats and Republicans alike.

These endorsements came at a cost to these conservative-leaning publications. Readers canceled subscriptions, made angry phone calls, and trashed the papers on Facebook and Twitter. There were even death threats. According to a story in The New York Times, cancellations at the Arizona Republic were coming in “every 10 minutes.”

For some readers, however, the endorsements proved a step too far. “Certainly, we’ve paid a price for our presidential recommendation,” Mike Wilson, the editor of The Dallas Morning News, told [news media site] Poynter this month.

[Phil] Boas of The Arizona Republic said he expected “a lot of cancellations,” pointing to cancellations at The Cincinnati Enquirer, which like The Republic, is owned by Gannett.

But he said financial considerations were “never a factor” for the newspaper’s nine-person editorial board. “It was more of a curiosity,” he said. “We know we’re doing the right thing. We feel very good about this decision.”

Margaret Sullivan, the media columnist at the Washington Post, reported that in addition to the subscription cancellations, there were even protesters picketing outside the Dallas Morning News building after that endorsement. She asked rhetorically whether taking such a stand is worth it.

Does anybody think for a second that a newspaper editorial might be worth antagonizing a dwindling customer base and feeding into the already rampant claims of journalists’ liberal bias?

Isn’t this exactly why so many newspapers, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, stopped doing political endorsements?

Sullivan argued that endorsements are still worth the time and effort.

Which brings me to the second reason for writing an endorsement editorial — even if it proves ineffectual and even if it deeply angers some readers: Publishing them is the right thing to do.

Editorial boards are mostly made up of thoughtful, smart and well-informed journalists who have had a chance to study and discuss the candidates seriously. In some cases, they have had the chance to meet with them in person. They have a unique and important vantage point.

What’s more, they have a bully pulpit. In a contest this important and this close, they need to use it. They would be walking away from their responsibility if they thought first about making some readers mad enough to cancel, even temporarily.

Some papers that would normally back the Republican nominee, such as the New Hampshire Union Leader in Manchester, the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia, and the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina, have endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. It’s likely a few conservative papers waiting to endorse may follow suit, but many others may very well choose Hillary Clinton.

Johnson also received the endorsement of The Detroit News in what may be the worst endorsement timing EVER. The endorsement from the News, which has endorsed only Republican candidates since its founding in 1873, was announced hours after Johnson’s latest “Aleppo moment,” in which, during a town hall interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, he was unable to name a single foreign leader he admired. This follows his infamous appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe in which Johnson demonstrated his lack of knowledge about the war in Syria when he asked, “What is Aleppo?”

By the next day, the Republican-leaning Chicago Tribune added its voice to the Johnson backers, calling him a “principled option” for president. Sure, if you like weed and don’t care about foreign policy. Sounds like the Tribune is having an Aleppo moment of its own.

Many of the nation’s newspapers will offer endorsements in the weeks to come, so the candidates will add to their totals. And it’s not fair to say that Trump hasn’t received any editorial endorsements. USA Today broke with its tradition of not taking sides in presidential races to warn readers not to vote for him under any circumstances. Trump is “unfit for the presidency,” the paper said, adding that America should “resist the siren song of a dangerous demagogue.”

Originally published on Daily Kos on Oct. 2, 2016.

UPDATE: More endorsements for Clinton: The Columbus Dispatch, a normally Republican endorser; The Atlantic, which has endorsed only three candidates for president in its entire history; The Wall Street Journal, which has an extremely conservative editorial board; and Foreign Policy, which has never before made an endorsement. Even the Idaho Statesman in that bright red state endorsed Clinton. She’s up to 115 endorsements now, and the number keeps growing.

And the Orange Menace finally got some endorsements for the general election. One was from the Santa Barbara News-Press; one from The Crusader, the official newspaper of the Ku Klux Klan; and one from The Las Vegas Review-Journal, now owned by casino mogul and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. Nice company you’ve got there.

Chicago adds police to cut gun violence. But can drill rap be ‘policed’?

Homemade drill rap videos feature weapons, gang signs, and threats -- are seen by millions.

Homemade drill rap music videos feature weapons, gang signs, and threats — and have gone viral.

The city of Chicago is proposing to add nearly 1,000 more personnel to the Chicago Police Department over the next two years in an attempt to tackle the overwhelming gun violence plaguing the South and West sides of the city. The increase in police power is one of several proposals from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. His anti-violence prescriptions may be thorough, but they might be missing some of the unique problems Chicago faces in its gang culture.

In an at-times emotional speech as he described some of the shooting victims, Emanuel spelled out the details of his initiatives with a three-point approach of enforcement, investment, and prevention. Besides the boost in law enforcement, the mayor called for stricter gun safety laws and stricter enforcement of gun-trafficking laws; longer prison sentences for repeat violent offenders; a three-year program to mentor eighth-, ninth-, and 10th-grade boys in the most at-risk neighborhoods; and more job opportunities in those neighborhoods. “The best anti-crime program is a job,” Emanuel said.

Cost estimates for these proposals are about $135 million for the expanded police presence and $36 million for mentoring. Emanuel gave no details on how anything would be paid for except to say that corporate partners were donating funds to pay for half of the expanded mentoring.

Emanuel has made many of these kinds of proposals before and his new anti-violence blueprint received mixed reviews, especially from those calling for more economic development in the city’s neighborhoods. But the sharp upturn in gun violence that gave Chicago the nickname of “Chiraq” is giving the city national negative attention. The high rate of violence has spurred Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to call for a return to the practice of “stop and frisk” by police, even though the technique has been widely (and correctly) criticized for disproportionately targeting African-Americans and Latinos and has been ruled unconstitutional. Not exactly the most successful method of outreach to minority voters.

Various groups keep a running tally of shootings throughout Chicago. To date in 2016, the total number of shootings is more than 3,100, with more than 500 homicides. In 2015, the total for the entire year was 2,988. August alone was the most violent month in nearly 20 years, with 90 homicides. Both fatal and non-fatal shootings are much higher in Chicago than in other U.S. cities. Why?

There’s neither a simple root cause for the spike in shootings nor a simple solution to quell the violence. High unemployment, poverty, a disappearing manufacturing base, lack of new business development and job opportunities, gang prevalence, too-easy access to out-of-state guns (and not enough punishment for gun trafficking), a decline in gun seizures, overall distrust of police, and a drop in proactive stops by police are all factors.

But a University of Chicago sociologist brings some new understanding to the depth of the violence and how it’s often tied to locally produced music called drill rap that can provoke and glorify shootings between gangs, even block by block. When gang members are shooting at each other, too many innocent bystanders get caught in the crossfire.

In a recent issue of Chicago Magazine, sociologist Forrest Stuart describes the 18 months he spent on research while embedded with members of one Chicago gang. Stuart, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, gives a first-person account of his time with the gang in a story titled, “Dispatches from the Rap Wars.” Stuart talks about how the overwhelming presence of social media and, specifically, drill music shared on social media, amplifies and glorifies gun violence by gangs. At first, he writes, he was surprised at how thoroughly the kids he interviewed knew the gang boundaries block by block (gangs today are much more localized than the large gangs of the 1980s and ‘90s). But they told him what they saw as the obvious reason why: “Music.”

In a relatively recent phenomenon, many of these gangs produce drill music—a Chicago-born low-fi version of gangsta rap, full of hyperviolent boasts and taunts. (Think NWA, but grittier and without the hooks.)

By keeping their ears open, these kids I was interviewing can quickly figure out whose territory they are in. If they are walking through a neighborhood and hear a certain kind of drill coming from a passing car or a phone speaker, they know that corner belongs to the gang Diddy Grove. If they’re in Diddy Grove territory and notice songs by O-Block, that tells them Diddy Grove and O-Block are likely cliqued up. …

I met Zebo the next day, and we talked for hours. He told me how drill perpetuates gang wars, how it’s an engine of both truces and feuds. He told me how CBE members will retaliate violently if a song by another gang insults their friends or relatives. He kept returning to a refrain, one I would hear many times during my field research: “This is not just music. It’s not just a game. This shit is for real.”

(Stuart says he substituted names such as “Zebo” and “CBE” of both the gangs and gang members so his subjects would open up to him without fear of being prosecuted.)

Forrest Stuart

Forrest Stuart

Stuart appeared on the local Chicago public television station, WTTW, explaining the growth of drill rap and how it has saturated gang life in Chicago—and, by the same token, spread gun violence. He talked about how prolific the use of social media is within the poor African-American community. The interview includes clips from homemade drill rap videos. You can see the whole video by clicking on the link below.


Stuart describes how gangs produce their own music videos, which are often done cheaply with a cell phone camera and an inexpensive computer. These videos and songs are then posted to YouTube and SoundCloud, often on the same day. The videos can attract new gang members and issue threats to rival gangs. They also are seen as a way to meet women. Many of these videos are seen nationwide by millions of viewers. One early drill rapper, Chief Keef, went on to stardom and a lucrative recording deal. Stuart says many young gang members want to emulate his success (despite the notoriety Chief Keef has gained with his long arrest record and other legal problems).

As I’d soon find out, CBE makes three kinds of videos. In one, they talk about nameless, faceless rivals, or haters. In another, they specifically target a rival gang with lyrics like “So-and-so’s a bitch” or “So-and-so’s a snitch.” And then there’s an in-between kind, which to an outsider sounds like generic disses but is actually very targeted, with the rapper flashing a rival gang’s hand signs upside down. ,,,

For the gang—and other gangs like it—the rappers are designated as the ticket out of poverty. It becomes the responsibility of the rest of the members to support and protect them. Each rapper has one or two “shooters.” These are the members who make good on the threats the rappers dish out in their lyrics and on social media. And, yes, that means shooting—and sometimes killing—people. …

One afternoon A.J. and I were in his apartment talking when he stood up and said, “I’m going to show you why I do this.” So he went on Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter and wrote, “I’m on FT for the next 20 minutes” and gave his phone number. FaceTime calls immediately started coming in from across the United States and Canada—male and female, ages 12 to 40, white, black, Hispanic—all like, “Oh my God, I love you. Your music is so great.”

He got so many calls that his phone ended up crashing.

As a suburban white woman, I’m obviously not the target demographic for drill music, and this is not a screed against rap music. The particular drill rap that Stuart describes is different from the music of Chicago artists like Chance the Rapper, whose Magnificent Coloring Day tour has partnered with the NAACP to register voters and provide community engagement resources at concerts. Chance’s Chicago tour stop was a reduced-price music festival that also benefited kids on the South Side and featured a wide array of musicians such as Skrillex, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Tyler the Creator, and Lil Wayne.

But hyperlocal drill music is different. It is ubiquitous and spreads like wildfire, especially among teenagers. Drill rap actually has been around for more than a decade, originating with the late Chicago rapper Pacman, but it did not reach real prominence until 2012, with the stardom of Chief Keef. Coincidentally, 2012 was the year Chicago’s murder rate started rising again.

From Stuart’s account:

When I started my research, I had this simplified notion that members of one gang would tweet something or make a video taunting their rival, and immediately members of that other gang would see it, get mad, grab a gun, jump in a car, and go in search of retribution. That’s not the way it works most of the time. … The CBE guys often [compile] intelligence about their rivals from YouTube and Snapchat and Instagram—what they look like, what houses they tend to hang out in front of, what cars they drive. They put together a mental log before they strike.

Stuart’s research into drill rap actually was an outgrowth of a project he helped design called Story Squad, a violence intervention program with support from the Chicago YMCA Youth Safety and Violence Prevention Office and other groups. The program aims to get youth to analyze the causes and impact of violence in their communities. It combines training in audio production and storytelling to produce audios in which kids tell their personal stories. Those stories are available to listen to at the website.

Here’s a video further explaining the Story Squad project.

Stuart has written a new book, Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row, about his fieldwork experiences in Los Angeles. The book is described as “a close-up look at the hows and whys of policing poverty in the contemporary United States.” It was written about Los Angeles, but it certainly can apply to any big city grappling with issues of gun violence and poverty and the struggle to contain it. His new research about Chicago gangs, including the material in Chicago Magazine, will be incorporated into another book.

Rahm Emanuel hopes that adding police officers and implementing his other proposals will put a large dent in the city’s gun violence. He admits that such changes will be hard and will take time. But it sounds like there’s a long road to understanding why that violence is occurring in the first place.

Originally published on Daily Kos on Sept. 25, 2016.

Trump ‘temperament’ implodes for all to see


The audience members in the first presidential debate weren’t the only ones laughing at GOP nominee Donald Trump. So was nearly anyone else watching on TV. Except perhaps for his immediate family members and his campaign staff, who likely were cringing.

After spending most of the debate lying, mocking, whining, interrupting, gulping water, and sniffling, the Orange Menace actually uttered the words, “I have the best temperament” to be president.

What American voters saw in the debate was a candidate prepared to step onto the world stage, lead the country in facing its multiple challenges, and act as commander-in-chief. The other was Donald Trump.

It’s no secret that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton knows her stuff, and knows how to be ready. The run-up to the debate from media pundits was that, because expectations would be lower for Trump, he would “win” if he controlled himself and scored some points against her (which he likely did in the beginning, talking about trade). Clinton supporters complained that Trump would be graded on a curve.

A curve? As one commentator put it, “She got an A-minus and he got a gentleman’s D.”

Trump even claimed in the spin room afterword that his microphone was “defective.” On Fox & Friends the next morning, he denied that he sniffled. He disowned statements he made in the debate within hours, such as his cavalier comment on not paying taxes (“It made me look smart”). And that doesn’t even count his denials on previous statements about climate change, birtherism, and so, so many more.

Presidential debate shows you never bring a Cheeto to a knife fight,” wrote Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke. His conclusion on how recent polls have showed a tightened race and how Trump’s dismal debate performance might stop that trend: “Trumpus interruptus.”

What people who have been wrapped up in this reality-show-like campaign often forget is that there are Americans who have yet to pay much attention to Trump or Clinton. For a good swath of the millions upon millions who watched the debate, this was a first look at Trump and Clinton in action.

That doesn’t bode well for Trump. Clinton sliced and diced him, lured him into traps, knowing his fragile ego can’t handle criticism.

And speaking of “interruptus”: We’ve all become accustomed to Trump’s bluster, walking all over his opponents, yelling loudly to get his points across, and interrupting others when they’re speaking, whether it’s a Democratic or Republican opponent or a member of the media. How did everyone do last night? According to a story in Vox, Trump interrupted Clinton 51 times, while she interrupted him 17 times. “It was a pretty stunning display, even for Trump,” the story said. “Counting the interruptions of both candidates by moderator Lester Holt, Clinton was interrupted a total of 70 times, and Trump was interrupted 47 times.”

Which shouldn’t surprise any woman in America — or anywhere. “There is no working woman in America who doesn’t recognize the pattern of interruption that Trump is using against Clinton,” tweeted author Laila Lalami.

So it’s one debate down, and three to go. The vice presidential debate is Oct. 4. The next two presidential debates are Oct. 9 and Oct. 19. At least Trump has nowhere to go but up … right?

Trump supporter Rudy Giuliani suggested that Trump might bow out. Of course, he blamed moderator Lester Holt, not the poor performance of his candidate. “If I were Donald Trump, I wouldn’t participate in another debate unless I was promised the journalist would act like a journalist, and not an ignorant fact check,” Giuliani said. Well, when your candidates tanks as badly as he did, you’ve got to blame somebody else.

Will all of this make any difference when people cast their ballots? It’s likely that die-hard Trump supporters, who haven’t minded his blatant lying and unpreparedness up to now, won’t feel any different about their candidate. A three-person voter panel speaking on NPR the morning after the debate (really, NPR? That’s your definition of analysis?) featured a Trump supporter who said his candidate “did what he needed to do.”

More telling, however, was the Clinton backer who is now fully on board with her candidate. “I am no longer a reluctant supporter of Hillary Clinton.” I have a feeling we’re going to hear a lot more of that sentiment in the weeks to come.



Clinton and Trump: A tale of two foundations

This portrait was bought with Trump Foundation money, yet it hangs in Trump's Doral Resort in Miami.

This portrait was bought with Trump Foundation money, yet it hangs in Trump’s Doral Resort in Miami.

One of the many differences between the two presidential candidates this election year is in the foundations that bear their names. One is a charity that has saved millions of lives around the world. The other is basically a scam that uses funds donated for charity as a personal piggy bank for the man whose name is attached.

The Clinton Foundation gets an “A” rating from Charity Watch and a four-star rating from Charity Navigator. It has helped 11.5 million people around the world receive reduced-price HIV/AIDS drugs. It consists of 11 nonprofit groups that work on four major issues: global health and wellness, climate change, economic development, and improving opportunities for girls and women.

Yet a baseless story from the Associated Press — now not even online anymore because of its inaccuracies — about supposed special access for Clinton Foundation donors who met with Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state kept the foundation in the headlines for weeks, delivering negative publicity and feeding into the media’s favorite “If it’s Hillary Clinton, it must be untrustworthy” meme.

The reporting on the Clinton Foundation has been so awful that when people answered questions in a UCLA survey about what the charity does, the answers ranged from booking speeches for the Clintons to handling the family’s money. Both of which are not even close to being true. From the story in The New York Times:

Among people who thought they could answer a question about what the foundation does, more than half (56 percent) think that setting up speaking engagements for the Clintons is one of its activities. This answer was chosen more than any other, including the charitable activities the foundation actually is engaged in, like combating AIDS in Africa (47 percent chose this answer), providing schoolchildren with healthful food choices (29 percent), and helping girls and women through education and training (43 percent). Although some money from the Clintons’ speeches ends up at the charity (and the Clintons may speak on behalf of the charity), booking speeches is not a central activity of the Clinton Foundation.

More surprising, 39 percent of registered voters think the Clinton Foundation manages the personal finances of the Clinton family, and 40 percent also think the foundation gives money to Democratic candidates. (It does neither of these things.)

American journalism is not at its finest in this election. Except, perhaps, from David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post.

So now let’s look at the Trump Foundation, which keeps its records so secret that it doesn’t have a website and obviously can’t match the good works of the Clinton Foundation. Trump and his surrogates repeatedly brag that he has given millions to charity out of his own pocket. Yet the Pulitzer Prize-worthy reporting from Washington Post reporter Fahrenthold, who has been digging into the Trump Foundation since February, shows that the foundation’s supposed donations to charity barely exist. Fahrenthold contacted 250 charities (he’s now up to 346) with ties to Trump since 2008 and found only one that received money from the Orange Menace.

Instead, the Trump Foundation has given money in the form of a campaign donation to the Florida attorney general. Miraculously, after Attorney General Pam Bondi received the donation, she dropped the investigation of Trump University. Another Fahrenthold story explains how that worked, including the fact that Trump had to pay the IRS a penalty for the illegal donation to Bondi’s campaign. (A similar situation occurred in Texas, when Trump donated money to the Texas attorney general’s campaign, but that money came from his own pocket.)

What else does the Trump Foundation do? It took over a quarter-million dollars from money donated by others for charitable purposes and used it to settle lawsuits facing Trump’s for-profit businesses. Another Farhenthold story gives the details. It’s a practice known as “self-dealing,” and, in case you were wondering, yes, that’s illegal. (And don’t forget the foundation money that was used to purchase a signed football helmet from Tim Tebow and paintings of the would-be narcissist-in-chief himself.) From the Post story:

More broadly, these cases­ also provide new evidence that Trump ran his charity in a way that may have violated U.S. tax law and gone against the moral conventions of philanthropy.

“I represent 700 nonprofits a year, and I’ve never encountered anything so brazen,” said Jeffrey Tenenbaum, who advises charities at the Venable law firm in Washington. After The Washington Post described the details of these Trump Foundation gifts, Tenenbaum described them as “really shocking.”

“If he’s using other people’s money — run through his foundation — to satisfy his personal obligations, then that’s about as blatant an example of self-dealing [as] I’ve seen in awhile,” Tenenbaum said.

Several charity law experts told Talking Points Memo that Trump’s egregious use of foundation funds “are obvious violations of the law and even have the potential of getting the Trump Foundation shut down,” a TPM story said.

The tax implications are two-fold, according to experts. The charity itself benefits from a tax-exempt status, and those who contribute also get to deduct their donations from their taxes.

Private foundations — which rely on large contributions from a few donors — are bound by strict regulations so they do not become devices that wealthy people use to avoid paying taxes, the experts said. Beyond a reasonable salary for the work he or she does for the charity, a disqualified person cannot participate in any sort of financial transaction, charity law attorneys told TPM.

“Self-dealing is prohibited, and the kind of self-dealing with the Trump Foundation is somewhat remarkable in its breadth,” said Jim Fishman, a professor at The Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in New York, who teaches courses on nonprofit law.

The Trump campaign is claiming that Fahrenthold’s excellent stories have been “inaccurate,” although they have not been able to point to any details that were wrong. Trump was asked by a reporter in Ohio about the Foundation’s financial shenanigans, and Trump gave a word-salad answer worthy of Sarah Palin:

“The foundation is really rare. It gives money to vets. It’s really been doing a good job. We put that to sleep just by putting out the last report.”

Of course, a lot of questions about charitable donations could be answered if Trump would only release his taxes. Guess this is just one more reason why those taxes are still under wraps.

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