Budget increases and cuts

Dear Donald –

Yesterday, you released the first details of your first budget request to Congress. It was scarce on details, but it did confirm that you plan to ask for a 10% increase in defense spending, about $58 billion extra.  Clearly, the first question is where that type of money comes from. Supposedly, that funding will be offset by cuts in other non-defense discretionary spending. Let’s go through the basics for a second. 

There are generally two types of funding – mandatory and discretionary. Mandatory funding is money that is authorized to be spent in an existing law and doesn’t require any action from Congress each year to be spent. For example, Medicare funding is mandatory funding, so That money isn’t dependent on Congress every year. Mandatory funding represents about 65% of annual Federal spending. Discretionary funding is the money that Congress appropriates annually. If Congress doesn’t take action, no funds can be spent on that purpose. For example, funding for the National Endowment for the Arts is discretionary, as is funding for a huge swatch of Federal programs. Discretionary appropriations are about $1.1 trillion annually, or about 30% of total annual spending. Your announcement yesterday was just about this piece of the Federal budget. 

Within discretionary funding, there is a clear breakdown – defense and non-defense. You see, he U.S. spends so much on its military that it constitutes over half of all discretionary spending – 54% in 2015 or $598 billion. Everything else combined – foreign aid, education, highways, housing programs, the VA, NASA, and everything in between – is only about $500 billion. 

Now, the other thing to remember is how U.S. military spending compares internationally. Worldwide, nations spent $1,676 billion on their militaries in 2015, meaning we alone constituted more than 35% of the worldwide total. We spend about as much as the next eight countries combined. A list that includes China, Russia, Germany, he United Kingde, France, and Japan. We’re not hurting when it comes to military spending. 

With that context, we have to ask why we need to spend more. What do we get for $650 billion that we can’t get for $600 billion? In a 2015 report, the Department of Defense was found to be wasting $125 billion over a five year period. DOD buried the report because they were afraid their budgets would get cut. With that much waste, why would we increase their annual funding until they’ve realized all possible efficiencies with their current funding?

Then there’s the question of what trade-offs we have to make. You said that the defense increases would be offset by reductions in non-defense discretionary spending, meaning that the extra $58 billion has to be cut from everything else – about a 12% cut across the board for all other programs. And that’s a net decrease. If there are any new initiatives in there, existing programs have to be cut even more.

 For example, you’ve pushed for $20 billion for school vouchers. If we assume that’s over 10 years, that’s about $2 billion per year. In 2016, the Department of Education’s budget was $68 billion. A 12% cut would be more than an $8 billion reduction in funding across the board. If you want to get $2 billion for vouchers, you’ve got to cut another $2 billion from existing programs, meaning a $10 billion cut in existing programs, or about 15%, and that’s assuming Education doesn’t get singled out for deeper cuts than other agencies. When you’re making cuts that deep, there are only a few places you can go – Title I grants to school distreicts, special education funding, teacher quality and training grants, or Pell grants have to take a hit, along with a whole host of other grant programs. 

So, is that worth it?  That’s the question that will ultimately be up to Congress. I can only hope that they don’t agree to this unnecessary military buildup at the expense of critical programs that help our most vulnerable citizens. 


Dear Donald –

Did you see the news about Senate Bill 142 in Arizona?  It just passed the Senate on a party line vote last week and is on its way to the House.  You’d probably like it, but odds are that a Justice Gorsuch will be reviewing it before too long. 

You see, SB142 is intended, supposedly, to go after paid protestors, though for the life of me I can’t say I’ve ever met one. The bill allows police to charge not only rioters with rioting, but also anyone else involved in the protest, including any peaceful demonstrators and event organizers. In so doing, they open up everyone attending a march to criminal charges if even one person causes property damage. By that logic, everyone attending your inauguration could have beenarrested because a few people decided to smash windows. 

And that’s not all. SB142 also links those charges with the state’s RICO statues, which allows the seizure of personal assets to reimburse victims of crime. It was meant to financially cripple organized crime. It may be used in Arizona to bankrupt rally organizers if anyone causes a disturbance.

This  bill serves no purpose other than to chill free speech. It is designed to intimidate organizers into not planning rallies or demonstrations with the fear that, if someone,anyone, connected with the rally or not, decides to commit vandalism, they will be personally liable, and potentially spend a year in jail. 

One thing about you right-wingers, you’re definitely not subtle about this stuff. Voter ID laws? What do the black folks have? Let’s block those. Protests in the streets? Let’s lock up and bankrupt the organizers. 

It’s a scary world we live in, and bills like SB142 make jr a little scarier by silencing the house of the people. 

The first amendment is precious and must be protected. The people have a right to speak up without fear of reprisal, regardless of message. I fear Arizona has forgotten that. 

You’ve sprung a leak

Dear Donald –

It sucks when you can’t control the news cycle. A political operation running like a finely tuned machine can usually use selected leaks of information to the right news outlets at the right time to their advantage – floating an idea for a policy proposal or a nomination to test the waters without actually making a commitment, for example. However, when you can’t control the cycle, you’re constantly playing defense, with information getting out before you’re ready for it to, or even when you don’t want it out at all. You and Sean have both seemed particularly on edge lately about the leaks out of the White House, leading to crackdowns on staff. 

Just the other day, Sean brought his entire staff into his office and demanded access to their work and personal cell phones to check for signs of subversive behavior, or something. Supposedly, even having Confide or Signal on their phones was sufficient justification for firing. Now, I won’t fault Sean for that.  A communications office firing a staffer for unauthorized communications with the press doesn’t seem too far fetched.  However, I think it’s probably crossing a line to demand access to personal cell phones, particularly without any other evidence of wrongdoing. Either way, the fishing expedition he was clearly on went too far, and not just because even having an app on your personal cell phone (an app Sean himself is said to have used) was apparently grounds for dismissal. 

You see, Sean brought in White House Counsel to up the ante, even having them frame outside communications with the press as a violation of the Federal Records Act, which it clearly isn’t. First off, the Federal Records Act pertains to, shockingly enough, records. Under the law, “records” are:

…all recorded information, regardless of form or characteristics, made or received by a Federal agency under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the United States Government or the cause of the informational value of data in them

In short, most anything you write down while doing your job as a government employee can be considered a record. A conversation you have with a member of the press about your job is not a record for FRA purposes. 

And any halfway decent lawyer knows that. Which means that the White House Counsel knew Sean was wrong in his threats and went along with it anyway. In our system of government, lawyers serve a vital function as checks on executive power. By clearly delineating right from wrong, they provide guardrails that protect the American people from the excesses of unchecked power. Lawyers that fail to serve that role in pursuit of giving the executive the answer that he wants only undermines good governance. Look at the CIA “enhanced interrogation” program. The executive was given cover to engage in illegal and horrifying torture of prisoners by a lawyer who drafted a memo. 

Here, lawyers gave Sean free reign to intimidate and bully his staff and potentially illegally Stacy their personal cell phones. And this is just because of a few small news leaks. What happens when someone higher up the food chain comes asking for even bigger favors?  Will they say no then when they couldn’t even say no to Sean now?

Vouchers don’t help, they hurt

Dear Donald –

I’ve written before about the basic problems with Betsy’s obsession with private school vouchers. As your first budget rolls out in the coming weeks and months, it’s likely that you’ll recommend a sizable federal investment in them. Based on what you’ve said before, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t over a billion dollars next year. 

In education, we like evidence to support our initiatives.  We may try something to improve results for kids, and if it doesn’t work, we move on and try something else. In government, taxpayers don’t like their money getting spent on things that don’t work. So that begs the question, what do we know about vouchers?

A new article in the New York Times summarizes three recent studies on private school vouchers and, in very instance, it’s not that kids who took the vouchers didn’t do any better than the kids who stayed in public schools, it’s that they did worse than kids who didn’t take the vouchers. That’s right. Worse. Kids who were at the 50th percentile when they took the voucher actually ended up in the 26th percentile. In Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio, students did worse in private schools than they did in public schools. 

There are a wide array of factors that could explain this. First of all, undersubscribed private school are more likely to accept vouchers, as they have seats available and may need revenue. These schools may actually be undersubscribed for the very reason that they are lower quality. Also, it is possible that the protections and supports that students have in public schools, such as epically education and related services,  are missing in private schools. 

Other studies have shown that students attending private schools using vouchers were more likely to advance in school and graduate, though that outcome is questionable given that criteria for advancement and graduation are determined by the individual private school, so public and private school students are not necessarily being held to the same standard, unlike with standardized testing data. 

And to be sure, any increase in soft skills that result from the private school attendance are surely offset by the marked falloff in academic performance. If you told a parent that their student could attend a private school and get a little better at code switching but would fall half a year or more behind their peers educationally, I don’t know of many who would take you up on the offer. 

 It’s unheard of for educational interventions to actually hurt students. Rule #1 in research is to first do no harm. If this study were being overseen by an Institutional Review Board, they’d quickly pull the plug on it. It’s unethical do continue doing something you know creates a harm. Now it seems as though we’re going to make it federal policy. 

Public policy should be based on what we know works, or at least what we think might work.  We know this doesn’t work. Let’s stop pretending. 

First Amendment at CPAC

Dear Donald –

It’s CPAC week and there have been some doozies so far, and I want to try to get to them, but I really wanted to start with the basics – the first amendment. 

I love the first amendment. No one loves it better than me. 

It’s an awe-inspiring statement given how you and your compatriots have walked all over it. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe there’s a misunderstanding of what the first amendment actually is or says. 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

    Let’s go down the list. In December 2015, you called for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.  Your travel ban identified seven Muslim majority countries, but allowed exemptions for religious minorities, functionally banning only Muslims from those countries. And despite your protests that this isn’t a Muslim ban, all evidence is to the contrary. 

    You’ve argued forcefully against news outlets that criticize you. You’ve called the press the enemy of the people.  Just today, you argued for opening up libel laws to make it easier to sue news outlets for stories that you find unflattering. Sean held a press briefing today in which he didn’t invite reporters from news outlets he thought were overly critical of you. You’ve even argued against the use of anonymous sources, a clear attempt to silence detractors and make it easier to take retribution against sources. 

    You’ve personally attacked individual citizens that question your inflated claims of success. You argued for banning flag burning, even though it’s been recognized as constitutionally protected freee speech for decades. Betsy gave a speech earlier this week in which she argued against safe spaces on college campuses saying that college professors were unduly limiting free speech, clearly not understanding that free speech doesn’t cover the right to harass and pursue others indefinitely. 

    You’ve argued that protestors and town hall attendees are paid. Sean argued that these are manufactured events. Wayne LaPierre of the NRA even went as far as to say they’re getting paid $1,500 per week.  Peter King argued that he won’t hold town halls b cause they undermine democracy. You’ve ignored petitions asking for greater transparency and have belittled those trying to express their concerns to their elected representatives. 

    So, forgive me if I’m skeptical of your “love” for the first amendment. 

    A right rescinded

    Dear Donald –

    What happens to a civil right rescinded? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

    Anti-discrimination protections are, in many ways, the core of our constitutional democracy. Regardless of who each of us is, or what we believe, we should expect equal treatment, and equal protection, under the law.   To be absolutely clear, our nation has rarely lived up to this credo. Whether it be blacks, poor people, women, religious minorities, or LGBT people, our country has sought to move toward a more inclusive society. In fits and starts, but always forward. There have always been efforts to roll back protections for certain groups once they had been extended, but the Federal government always stood on the side of protecting rights once they have been granted, at least until yesterday. 

    Rescinding the Title IX guidance on transgender students was a huge step backwards for civil rights in our country. It’s not just about what bathrooms kids get to use in schools, it’s about whether or not the Federal government stands up for these kids, and whether we recognize their value. 

    There was a study published recently that examined the impact of legalizing gay marriage on the suicide rates of teens. They found that, in states where same sex marriage was legalized, there was a 14% decline in suicide rates among gay teens. There was even a 7% decline among all teens, regardless of sexual orientation. The authors explained that they believe that laws legalizing same sex marriage in a state provided gay teens with a sense of belonging, and hope for the future. They recognized that their states cared about them and was willing to legally ensure that they had a future. And that sense of acceptance and belonging provided benefits across the board. 

    What happens to a civil right rescinded?  Does it fester like a sore and the run?

    For far too long, the right’s discussion of the LGBT community has had distinct overtones of sexual predation. Yesterday’s convictions that gay men were all secretive child molesters has become today’s certainty that transgender teens use the bathroom only to sexually assault people. Such thinking was the basis of HB2 in North Carolina. For a certain segment of the right, something even as basic and fundamental to life as using the bathroom can become hyper-sexualized when thought of in the context of LGBT people. To be fair, I know of more Senators accused of sexual misconduct in restrooms than transgender people. However, paranoia trumps facts. At the end of the day, transgender kids are weird and different to the right, which means they have to be isolated and diminished. For them, the worst outcome is the inclusion of transgender teens more fully into the lives and fabric of their schools. After all, when folks actually get to know transgender youth, they’re less likely to be hateful and bigoted, which really shrinks the conservative voting bloc. 

    Title IX was originally drafted to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions. The underlying concept was clear – an institution receiving public dollars should not discriminate in its opportunities and accommodations for students on the basis of what made other people comfortable. All students have an equal right to an education and to be free from discrimination and jntimidation. 

    I was happy to see that Betsy took a stand, for however short a period of time, against the repeal, but didn’t have the strength of her convictions to stand her ground on the issue. She, and you, allowed an Attorney General to overrule a Secretary of Education on a matter affecting schools. That’s a. Old precedent to set, and it raises the question of how you will handle disagreements in your cabinet moving forward. Will you always defer to prejudice over common sense? And will there ever come a point st which one of your appointees decides that you’ve crossed a red line and resign in protest?

    What happens to a civil right rescinded?  Does it stink like rotten meat?

    Truly though, we are left wondering about the transgender kids across this country tonight, and really all LGBT folks. His move sends a sign that they are somehow diminished in your America, that they mean less than they did six weeks ago, that they don’t matter. What happens when the next bullied transgender teen commits suicide? Will we all once again talk about what a tragedy it is, and such a waste, and every other platitude we can muster, then move on with our lives without changing anything?

    I recognize that so much of the Obama agenda was accomplished through the stroke of a pen, and can just as easily be undone. We must all be aware that our progress is not to be taken for granted and it can all disappear in an instant. This guidance was supposedly not a priority for your Administration, but within 33 days you rolled back Federal protections for these students. 

    What rights and protections are next? And what are we each going to do to protect all students from bullying, harassment, and discrimination?

    What happens to a civil right rescinded? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?

    Freedom of the pressĀ 

    Dear Donald – 

    Just down the street from your new digs, you’ll find a fairly unique museum, dedicated fully to the freedom of the press and the business of good journalism. One of the permanent exhibits there is a world map showing the freedom of the press around the world. As of last year, they estimated that only 17% of the world’s population lived in a country with a truly free press, meaning that they could print what they wanted without fear of government intervention or reprisal. The U.S. shows up as green on that map. I’m afraid that you may be laying the groundwork for a downgrade in the next few years. 

    The press plays a vital role in holding those in power to account. When they are functioning well, they provide necessary and important information to the public about the nature and functioning of the world around them. They provide the facts necessary for informed decision-making in a democracy. 

    That’s why it’s such a problem when opinions or outright lies become substitutes for facts, when stories we don’t like become “fake,” and when we can isolate ourselves into echo chambers that wall us off from uncomfortable realities. The ground has shifted under the news media over the last two decades as the proliferation of media outlets and news options has led to large scale market segmentation. Whereas in years past there were only a handful of well-regarded sources for the news, now someone can choose from literally hundreds of sources. Now, we can pick our news, and that has created fractures in the populace and a lack of common understanding about important issues. It was only a matter of time before someone drove a wedge in those cracks and kept hammering until something broke. 

    And that’s where we are today. Our system is, in many ways, fundamentally broken. The fragmentation of data sources has led to individuals of opposing ideologies working with completely different sets of facts than each other, meaning that there is really no hope of reaching a good solution. In a rush to get news directly from the source, we’ve cut out the intermediaries who can put those pieces of information into context for us, or even tell us if they were outright lies. For so long, the media have operated according to certain unwritten codes of conduct and expectations for behavior. When you walk in and completely ignore those norms, trey struggle to effectively respond. You can see it in how long it took them to figure out how to cover you (and they still don’t quite have it down). 

    When the people don’t have a reliable source for information, they become susceptible to deception. Your attacks on the validity of traditional news sources has undermined public confidence in them and made a certain segment of the population convinced that they can’t be trusted. As a result, they open themselves to believing claims of a Bowling Green Massacre or a phantom terror attack in Sweden. The worst part is that you’re not even a good consumer of news yourself. You’ve repeatedly parroted talking points from cable news just moments after they air without any meaningful thought or introspection. Your claims about the events in Sweden on Friday were actually a reference to a Tucker Carlson segment on Fox News on Friday, not any actual event or any reporting of an actual event. 

    You’ve already, in many ways, undermined the credibility of the press with your supporters. The next step is to actually prevent the press from reporting negative stories at all, cutting off all negative stories. Last week, it appears that Jared started to lay the groundwork for just that. In a meeting with the executive vice president of Time Warner Cable, Jared made a point to complain about the coverage of you on CNN, which is owned by Time Warner. While there has been no clear reporting of an “ask” from Jared, the problems should be clear. At a minimum, Jared was implying hat something within this executive’s control was displeasing to the White House, and the implication from there is that access and favors may be contingent on resolving those problems. 

    This becomes even more concerning when you factor in an $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T currently under review by the Justice Department.  Executives and corporations have a lot to earn if that acquisition goes through. Did Jared’s comment leave an impression that your Administration’s position might change as a result of how Time Warner handles CNN?  Your position already has changed between the campaign and the transition. What’s to say it wouldn’t change again?  

    It’s also important to remember that an actual ask isn’t necessary for there o be actions taken. If a business even perceives the possibility of a better regulatory environment if they take a particular action, they likely will. We saw the same process at play with your trademark dispute in China – the explicit trade-off needn’t be discussed as long as everyone understands the stakes. 

    Attacking the media for unflattering (but true) reports about you, limiting press access both physically and by not taking questions during press availabilities, exploiting market segmentation to spread lies for your own benefit, and using your office to create a friendly regulatory environment for the parent companies willing to silence their press organizations all create a chilling effect on the media. And when they go silent, citizens will have nowhere to access honest and real information about the functioning of their democracy and the behavior of those in power. 

    My fear is that, years from now, I’ll take my son to the Newseum and see the United States shaded in red. 

    A Milo Moment

    Dear Donald –

    Two weeks ago, Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to address the College Republicans at UC-Berkeley. Recognizing his hateful and abhorrent views, large numbers of students protested the speech, resulting in property damage and arrests. The level of violence and damage was actually so high that the University decided it would not be safe to allow Milo to speak, and canceled the address.  At the time, the conservative media played this entire episode as liberal political correctness and censorship run amok. In fact, you even threatened to pull back Federal funding from the university unless they let Milo speak. I’ve already written about how ridiculous that entire episode was, but it becomes a fascinating set piece when paired with this recent CPAC dust-up. 

    CPAC is where wannabe conservative power players go to earn their credentials. There’s never really much of surprise that comes out of it. There are always thinly veiled attacks at LGBT people, women’s rights, racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, and religious minorities. It’s the standard fare of the right. Usually, nothing to see here other than self-important rich white heterosexual Christians making themselves feel better about a nation that every year becomes a little more supportive of the poor, a little less white, a little more supportive of the LGBT community, and a little less religious. Today’s America looks and feels different than the one they grew up in, and it terrifies them. Your basic white conservative rage. 

    This year, they decided to invite Milo to the party and all hell broke loose. A video was released in which, through edited clips of interviews, Milo is heard seemingly arguing in favor of pedophilia. Based on the clip, Milo would take offense at that characterization, as he applies the term only to attraction to children who have not yet reached puberty. He takes this “if there’s grass on the field, play ball” approach and extends it to the “arbitrary and oppressive idea of consent,” arguing that boys as young as 13 can give informed consent for sex, pointing to his own molestation by a priest when he was only 14. According to Milo, he and “Father Michael” had a consensual sexual relationship. 

    I need not go much further, because the entire line of argumentation is so thoroughly disturbing and clearly disconnected from reality. It is a survivor of sexual abuse validating and justifying that abuse by attaching to it something that did not, and could not, exist – meaningful informed consent. 

    What I want to focus on, though, is not the fundamental misunderstandings of consent, sexual abuse, and sexual predators, but instead on the CPAC response and how it fits into a larger commentary on our current politics. After the video surfaced, CPAC rescinded their offer to Milo to speak, and he has since also lost a book deal with Simon & Schuster and resigned from his position at Breitbart. In short, this video and its implications sent people running. Milo crossed a bright line, and no matter how much they may have liked his confrontational style and the substance of his other lines of argumentation, hey we’re willing to leave him behind. 

    **As a side note, I noticed a fair number of folks in the far right attempting to defend Milo, even going as far as to try to parse out the definition of pedophilia and the  different types of sexual attraction to underage children. Funly enough, I saw no such parsing when it was a completely fabricated story of Hillary buying and selling child sex slaves in the basement of Comet Ping Pong, but when Milo is actually talking about real priests and real 14-year-olds, webstart splitting hairs with rape. 

    And that bright line is what concerns me. Not that pedophilia shouldn’t be a bright line – it absolutely should be. My concern is that conservatives never seemed to have thought any of the other abhorrent things Milo has said over the years were such a breaking point for the relationship. Racism, xenophobia, and sexism didn’t do it. Islamophobia didn’t do it. Why is it that none of those statements were a problem for conservatives? CPAC is perfectly happy giving a platform to a white supremacist, so long as he’s not a white supremacist who’s also on the NAMBLA listserve. 

    CPAC is happy to give a platform to someone arguing that our system is too hard on sexual predators when the survivors are women in college campuses, just so long as they don’t make the exact same argument about 14-year-olds. 

    The fact of the matter is that, at the end of the day, conservatives don’t care about any of these issues because they realize that, at the core of their movement today, there is a pernicious vein of hatred toward women and minorities. They’ve tailored their message to be racism lite – the kind that’s acceptable at your local coffee clatch, even trough it’s rooted in the same ideology as the Klan rally down the street. They wrap their misogyny in a cloak of religious belief, but it’s the same old story of male hegemony that’s ruled for millennia. Notice how, even after you bragged about sexually assaulting women, this base didn’t abandon you. They clasped their pearls but kept up the yard signs. 

    At this moment, this Milo moment, we all need to consider what this blowback means. Conservatives have shown us their breaking point, and it’s far deeper down the rabbit hole than anyone should feel comfortable with it being. Even more so because none of these statements by Milo were unknown. Interviews included in the tapes were almost two years old, meaning that the issue wasn’t that Milo said these things or believed them, it was that he got caught in the mainstream media saying it. Ultimately, it wasn’t even Milo’s rants about underage sex that undid him, but the fact that those rants went public in a big way. 

    Conservatives have, these last few days, shown us who they really are. They are fine with bigotry and hatred and are even fine with statements about sexual abuse of minors so long as it’s out of the public eye. At this moment, ask yourself what that says about any genuine moral convictions that may exist on the religious right. At this moment, ask what value does it mean they place on any human life that doesn’t get them a tax break. 

    Then consider what this moment teaches us about these abhorrent beliefs. Milo is out at Breitbart not because of what he said but because he got caught in the public eye saying it. In this moment, understand what power our voices have. When we speak out, we have power. The media still have power.  We must use it, and they must use it to highlight the problems with the conservative agenda and to speak truth to the powers that be. 

    In this Milo moment, we must understand what crosses the line for us and what we will do to call out those trespasses when they occur. I just hope that we don’t have to wait for something this egregious to be said again before we can start holding the powerful to account.  

    Trump TM

    Dear Donald –

    It’s no secret that, despite numerous business failures, you’ve done one thing incredibly well – monetize your name. You charge companies around the world millions of dollars just to put your name on their buildings and products. In fact, your knack for self-promotion was the only thing that saved you from bankruptcy when your Atlantic City ventures folded. Investors saw that your name and the brand that came with it could be more valuable than the payout they would get by forcing you to liquidate. 

    However, as with any brand, you’ve got to protect it if you’re going to be able to make money off of it. That’s why you furiously register trademarks and copyright catchphrases. If no one else can use the name, only you make the money off of it. 

    Then came China. Back in 2006, you started trying to register trademarks in China, including your name. Thre only problem was that a man named Dong Wei already held the trademark. Since then, you’ve been fighting a protracted legal battle to win the trademark for real estate and construction ventures in the country. 

    In November, you won the election. In December, you took a call from the leader of Taiwan, in direct contradiction if the U.S.’s clear “One China” policy, in place since 1979. The policy, initiated by Jimmy Carter, recognizes Taiwan as a part of China and therefore engages the U.S. diplomatically with Beijing alone. Your call in December, under this policy, was akin to a foreign leader calling a hostile governor to engage in talks rather than the President. 

    During the blowback from that decision, you said that we wouldn’t necessarily be bound by that policy, potentially throwing our relations with a major international power, and an, at times, adversarial one, into disarray. 

    Earlier this month, you had a lengthy phone conversation with President Xi of China and, afterwards, agreed to abide by the extant policy. 

    Less than a week after that phone call, suddenly the disposition of your legal dispute changed, and you were granted a ten year trademark for he use of your name in real estate and construction. 

    Now, to date, I haven’t seen any reports that the status of your trademark was explicitly discussed with Xi, but it’s hard to imagine a coincidence in which your shifting stance on the One China policy and the resolution of your trademark case were not related. 

    I’ve written multiple times before about your family’s use of your office for personal financial gain, and it’s truly despicable. Aside from what, to me, appears to be a clear violation of the emoluments clause, it also puts you, and your finances, at the mercy of Beijing’s whims. Currently, you hold 77 trademarks in China. What happens when you want to take an action against China and they threaten to revoke all of them? Will you go forward, or will you reconsider?

    You’ve turned over management of your companies to your sons, but you haven’t divested, meaning that you can still profit from them (or lose money). As a result, you’re exposed to improper financial pressures and the American people can’t be sure whether you’ll be deciding for them, or your bank accounts. 

    The Russians are coming

    Dear Donald – 

    It’s been an eventful few days. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that you’ve only been in power less than a month. This much turmoil, intrigue, and scandal usually takes years to develop, and that’s why I’m so concerned – in part because of the sheer level of scandal already and what that might portend for the years to come and in part because so much of this was known or knowable at the time of the election, which makes me truly concerned for the health of our democracy. 

    Earlier this week, you cut ties with Mike Flynn, your national security advisor, because, ostensibly, he lied to Mike Pence about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador during the transition. To be clear, I in no way question the firing of a top aide that misled, or outright lied to, the Vice President. Such behavior is unacceptable. However, your rationale for his firing and your comments since then seem to clearly indicate that you’re actually not that concerned about the underlying illegal activity, just the fact that he lied to Pence or, more honestly, that he got caught in the papers. After all, if you were truly concerned about Flynn’s lying, you might not have waited two weeks after finding out to inform Pence. In yesterday’s press conference, you seemed much angrier about the fact that the information was leaked rather than the underlying behavior. That’s a problem. However, it’s not unexpected that someone else in your inner circle would have had inappropriate contacts with Russia. Let’s do a quick rundown of the shady dealings of your campaign and administration staff:

    • Paul Manafort was your former campaign manager. From 2004-2012, he worked for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine with close ties to the Kremlin. In 2009-2010, he helped elect Viktor Yanukovych president of Ukraine. After Yanukovych was charged with corruption and he fled to Moscow, a ledger discovered in party headquarters showed over $12 million in payments to Manafort over a five year period. During the campaign, there were accusations that Manafort used his connections to Russia to organize a quid pro quo – Russia would release hacked DNC emails to Wikileaks and, in return, your campaign would take a more pro-Russi stance regarding Ukraine. Just before the Republican Convention, the Republican Party platform was amended with regards to support for Ukraine in resisting Russian incursions. Members of the platform committee said that the changes were directly ordered by representatives of your campaign. Shortly thereafter, Wikileaks began publishing DNC emails. Once Manafort’s connections to Russia and Ukraine became news, he left the campaign but remained an unofficial advisor. Intelligence sources have since confirmed that Manafort had contacts with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign. 
    • Carter Page is a former foreign policy adviser of yours who otherwise made his name in the oil industry. As I’ve written before, back in July, Carter supposedly met with the head of Russian state oil company Rosneft. In that meeting, Page offered to roll back sanctions on Russia if you were elected and Sechin agreed to sell a 19% stake in the company – sanctions that directly harmed oil profits, particularly a deal with Exxon and its former CEO, current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. On December 7, Rosneft sold a 19.5% stake to a multinational conglomerate with a base in the Cayman Islands and almost 1/3 of the money coming from an unknown source. The next day, Carter Page had a meeting at Rosneft HQ. Intelligence sources are also now accusing Page of having communications with Russian intelligence operatives during the campaign. 
    • Mike Flynn is your former national security advisor. In August of 2015, he gave a paid speech in Russia for the state propaganda TV network, RT. At that event, Flynn sat with Vladimir Putin at dinner. Around the same time, Flynn endorsed you and became an advisor to your campaign. On December 29, President Obama announced sanctions against Russia for interference in the election. That same day, Flynn called the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and reportedly indicated that the sanctions would be rolled back once you were sworn in. Russia did not retaliate against the sanctions, which is not typical behavior for them. The next day, you tweeted that Putin had made a smart decision. Intelligence officials intercepted the call between Flynn and Kislyev and were concerned. Flynn was interviewed by the FBI and did not admit he spoke to Kislyev about the sanctions. When it was diannly reported publicly that he did, he resigned. Intelligence officials now also believe that Flynn had contact with Russian operatives during the campaign as well. 

    All of this without Rex’s ties to the Russian leadership. Meanwhile, Russia has deployed a new cruise missile system in direct violation of existing arms treaties with the U.S., and a Russian spy ship is cruising 30 miles off the East coast in international waters. 

      All of this could add up to  one of thre things:

      1. Pure coincidence and happenstance. It’s all pure bad luck and misunderstandings. A lot of smoke, but absolutely no fire. 
      2. Putin has installed a Manchurian candidate in the White House. You are working for Putin and are doing his bidding as he tries to expand his influence in the world. You are willingly going along because of the power you receive and substantial monetary payments from Moscow. 
      3. Putin has done everything he can to get you elected because he thinks you are a destabilizing force in the West and you’ve been an unwitting player in the larger game. To me, this seems like the most likely scenario. I believe that, at various points in time, Russian operatives approached your staff (or vice versa) to seek the exchange of small favors to mutual benefit. While you and your team thought you were getting a leg up or some financial windfall, Putin and his colleagues were playing the long game. And you had no idea. 

      Your reckless statements at yesterday’s presser just goes to support that theory. You attack allies and call into question longstanding mutual defense agreements. These actions will, over time, only destabilize Europe and Southeast Asia, giving Russia greater Room to move and expand their influence in both regions. 

      The other, potentially more terrifying, part of this debacle is that most of the facts here were known, or fully knowable, at the time of the election. For myriad reasons, voters and elected officials chose to ignore these concerns, largely because they thought they could get something out of your election. To this day, we still see Congressional Republicans giving you wide berth with the hopes that they can get tax reform (read: tax cuts for rich folks) passed with you in office. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the knowabilty of these issues is that the FBI knew about all of these contacts at the same time Comey was writing letters about potential emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer and they refused to divulge that information to the American public. In such an environment, our democracy is truly broken. Individuals in power are denying information to the general public about potentially treasonous acts to serve their own puerile interests. 
      I only hope that people are listening now. And that they will engage the democratic process to let it be known that this is unacceptable.