Thursday, September 28, 2017

Trump's Big CON: He Won't Be Draining the Swamp, Quite the CONtrary (CONt., Part 3)

UPDATE:  "There truly has been a change in Washington in this new administration. It used to be that there were people in government who acted ethically, and people who professed to care about ethics and conflicts of interest but found ways to work around the rules. In the Trump administration, they’ve pretty much stopped pretending that ethics are something anyone should care about.

Two months ago, Walter Shaub resigned his position as head of the Office of Government Ethics, saying the Trump administration had made such a mockery of ethics rules that it was harming the ability of the United States to fight corruption around the world. . .

Anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex understood that when Donald Trump promised to 'drain the swamp' in Washington, he was completely full of it. What may not have been as obvious was the way he would usher in a new era of corruption.

It starts from the top. The president himself hired his family members; continues to profit from a hotel near the White House where foreign dignitaries and political cronies know they can line his pockets by booking overpriced rooms and meeting spaces; charges the Secret Service to rent golf carts to get around on his frequent trips to his golf resorts; passes out ethics waivers like candy so that lobbyists can move into the administration and 'oversee' the industries that paid them in the past and will no doubt do so in the future; and of course refuses to release the tax returns that would enable the public to see how he’s profiting from the presidency.

Whenever questions are raised about any of this, we’re assured that it’s all on the level, and before you know it everyone has moved on. Over time, the result is that none of us expect anything different. Of course Trump will use the presidency to enrich himself and his family members. Of course he’ll hire people whose government “service” is for the sole purpose of enriching the industries from which they hail. Of course those who work for him will see public resources as theirs to do with what they will. That’s just how things work now.

Which raises a disturbing question: When Trump leaves the White House, will he have so degraded every ethical rule and norm that future administrations will feel no need to exceed his debauched standards?"

Read the Washington Post, Will Trump’s corruption continue damaging the country after he’s gone?

While some charitable groups have canceled events at Trump owned properties, political organizations and industry groups have filled the void.

“Trump-owned hotels and clubs have long made money by holding galas and other special events. Now, their clientele is changing. Trump’s properties are attracting new customers who want something from him or his government. . .

To assess the state of Trump’s hospitality business, The Washington Post reviewed public records, data released by the Trump Organization and social-media postings from Trump properties. The Post identified a sample of more than 200 groups that had rented out meeting rooms or golf courses at a Trump property since 2014.

Of those groups, 85 are no longer Trump customers. Many said they left for nonpolitical reasons. But 30 told The Post that they had left because of Trump’s political career. . .

The Post’s review could not determine if the Trump Organization’s special-event business is growing or shrinking overall.

But it did show, clearly, that one part of that business is thriving. The business of political events.

For instance, in the 2014 election cycle, before Trump jumped into the presidential race, nine federal Republican candidates and committees reported patronizing Trump-owned properties.

Altogether, these groups spent $32,499 over two years, less than Trump’s clubs could take in from a single run-of-the-mill golf tournament.

This year, the figures are different.

At least 27 federal political committees — including Trump’s reelection campaign — have flocked to his properties. They’ve spent $363,701 in just seven months, according to campaign-finance reports. In addition, the Republican Governors Association paid more than $408,000 to hold an event this spring at the Trump National Doral golf resort, according to tax filings, a gathering the group said was booked back in February 2015.

At Trump’s D.C. hotel, there have also been a slew of events involving groups that have come to Washington to influence policy decisions.

Just last week, the hotel hosted the prime minister of Malaysia, who is the subject of a Justice Department corruption probe, as well as the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which wants more offshore drilling. The hotel was also scheduled to host an association of candy-makers, who want federal help in a long-running feud with the sugar industry.

In July, a trade group representing e-cigarette makers and vape shop owners brought about 150 people to the hotel. They paid $285 per guest room. They also paid to rent a ballroom, and reserve the hotel’s Lincoln Library, though the vapers wouldn’t say how much they cost.

Ten days after the group checked out, it scored a victory.

An Obama-era regulation requiring stricter government oversight of e-cigarette products was put on hold by the Food and Drug Administration. . .

Rentals from groups such as these helped Trump’s D.C. hotel surpass its own revenue expectations.

Through the first four months of the year, the hotel turned a profit of $1.97 million, according to documents reported by The Post last month. Before the election, the company had projected it would lose $2.1 million in the same period, the documents show. The revenue from food and beverage sales — which includes special events — was part of that surprising performance. It came in 37 percent above expectations.

Trump’s politics was a draw for [Steven M. ] Alembik, the conservative Israel backer who decided recently to hold an event at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s oceanfront club in Palm Beach.

Alembik said he will charge $600 per ticket. He expects 700 guests. That’s $420,000. In theory, Alembik said, any leftover proceeds will go to an Israeli charity called The Truth About Israel.

But, Alembik said, Trump’s club will probably keep most of the money. He said he’d recently seen an estimate of the costs. He declined to say what the number was, but said: 'My God, they’re expensive. Holy crap.' . .

At Trump Doral, a golf club and resort outside Miami, The Post identified 18 business conferences or golf tournaments scheduled to be held at the property from mid-September through next May.

Many are sponsored by industry groups such as the Food Marketing Institute, which is hosting a conference for 1,000 food retailers and suppliers there in January. The group signed a contract to book the Doral back in April 2015, according to a spokeswoman.

A major defense contractor, L3 Technologies, just announced that it would hold its annual management meeting at the resort. A spokeswoman said the company chose Doral for a variety of logistical reasons unrelated to politics.

Read the Washington Post, Trump’s divisive presidency reshapes a key part of his private business.

Trump's Big CON: It's All About the Show, Iran Edition

"President Trump knows that the deal negotiated between the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and Iran to restrain Iran’s nuclear program is just terrible. As he said at the United Nations on Tuesday, 'The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it — believe me.'

Now he says he has made a decision on whether to pull out of the deal, but he won’t tell us what it is. After all, you always want to leave the audience eager to tune in for next week’s episode.

But ask yourself this: What exactly is it that Trump thinks is so bad about the agreement? Does he even know?

There’s no evidence that he does. . .

At this point, we’ve stopped expecting that the president himself will have anything resembling well-thought-out reasons for the actions he takes, even those with potentially catastrophic consequences. But what about the less ignorant people who work for him? What do they have to say?

The critical context here is that all of Trump’s key advisers seem to disagree with him on the wisdom of abandoning the agreement [including Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff].

So what we have is a group of serious, informed national security aides practically begging their unserious, ignorant boss not to do something spectacularly stupid, a herculean effort that only succeeds temporarily. It’s important to remember that according to the International Atomic Energy Agency and virtually every informed observer, Iran is in fact complying with the agreement. It’s working. . .

We all know the real reason Trump wants to walk away from the nuclear accord. It isn’t because Iran is violating the terms, because it isn’t. It isn’t because the terms were terribly unfair to the United States, because they weren’t. It isn’t because Iran is doing things outside the agreement that we don’t like, because those actions exist outside the agreement. It’s because Trump is a petulant man-baby who believes that anything that has Barack Obama’s name on it has to be destroyed, no matter the consequences."

Read the Washington Post, Does Trump even know what he hates about the Iran nuclear deal?