One of the biggest Republican attacks against Hillary Clinton, and Bill too, is how rich they’ve gotten since leaving the White House in 2001. Yes, they are rich: by some estimates, more than $100 million.
Their wealth has been one of Trump’s main targets. I saw a pro-Trump T.V. ad, aired during the fabulous seventh game of the World Series, in which a narrator with an ominous voice calls the Clintons “filthy rich” and insinuates that the source of their wealth is nefarious.
(Never mind that Trump’s wealth is based, at least in part, on scams: Trump University, his late-night infomercials on how-to-get-rich-quick through real estate, not paying his bills, taking advantage of bankruptcy loopholes, etc.)
Republican voters have been eager to buy into the Trump denunciation of Clinton money. An anti-Hillary letter to the editor in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal referred to an alleged Harry Truman quote: “You can’t get rich in politics unless you’re a crook.”
Well, the Clintons didn’t get rich “in politics,” they got rich after Bill left the White House, and after Hillary left government service. Their wealth derives from book sales and speeches, not from siphoning money off the Clinton Foundation or any “crooked” practices. Let’s face the fact that, when you’ve been a high-level politician in America, the opportunities for making a lot of money legitimately are manifold. Ronald Reagan—who already was rich from his career as an actor—took advantage of his post-Presidential fame to earn millions from speeches, before Alzheimer’s robbed him of that ability. When Richard Nixon died, he had become a very wealthy man, mainly through real estate deals. George W. Bush—very wealthy through his family connections—made a lot more money when he left office, including at least $7 million for his memoir, and at least $15 million from giving speeches (which he’s still doing). Now, you might object that it’s tacky and unseemly for ex-Presidents (and their spouses) to cash in, but the fact is, writing books and giving speeches is not illegal, and you would probably do the same thing, were you in a position to do so.
The Trump campaign—arguably the most dishonest in recent American history—is, as I said, strongly insinuating that the Clintons’ wealth derives, in large part, from the Clinton Foundation, but there’s no evidence whatsoever that that’s true. Of course, “truth” is a fungible commodity in the Trump campaign; The Donald understands that his followers aren’t looking for truth, they’re looking for their resentments to be validated, their chief resentment being an unreasoning hatred of the Clintons. Trump is the validator-in-chief: he has never offered a shred of evidence that Hillary Clinton has done anything illegal or even unethical*, but that doesn’t matter to Trumpsters.
It’s odd, isn’t it, for the right wing—which celebrates, or claims to celebrate, the right of Americans to get “filthy rich”—to turn so violently against the Clintons for the “crime” of their wealth. But then, consistency has not been the highlight of Republicans during this campaign season. The morally pompous religious right has, for the most part, pardoned Trump’s sexual predation, while Republicans in Congress have been conspicuously silent about Trump’s promises that he won’t touch Social Security or Medicare, which have been the GOP’s bete noires for decades.
Finally, what’s so disgusting about this Republican attack on the Clintons is the suggestion that the Clinton Foundation is a money-making front for them. It is not. From everything I have read and heard—and if you have evidence to the contrary, let me know—the foundation’s work is incredible, working across a range of issues around the world to help poor, dispossessed people. What has George W. Bush done since leaving office to help anyone? Nothing we know of. And what has Donald J. Trump ever done to help anyone, except himself? You know, and I know, the answer is: nothing. The man is a greedhead, pure and simple. It just goes to show that the old saying is true when it comes to Republicans with regard to the Clintons: No good deed goes unpunished.
*That having a private email server was stupid is unarguable, but Colin Powell had one, so do lots of other politicians, and no doubt Hillary, and all other politicians, learned her lesson not to do that again.
What is the Hatch Act? It is a 1939 law named after a lifelong Democrat, Carl Hatch, who was U.S. Senator from New Mexico for sixteen years before being elevated to the Federal bench by President Truman. Hatch, who was chairman of the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections, was bothered by partisan political activity by Federal government employees, Democratic and Republican, in the election process. The Act named after him forbade such employees from engaging in such activities.
The Act’s key wording is contained in the U.S. Code Section 7323: “a [government] employee may not use his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” A sub-section of the Act (B II) specifically identifies employees of “the Federal Bureau of Investigation” as being subject to the Hatch Act.
The penalty for violating the Hatch Act is this: “An employee or individual who violates…this title shall be removed from his position, and funds appropriated for the position from which removed thereafter may not be used to pay the employee or individual.”
We come now to the case of James Comey, the current FBI director, who this past week “sent Congress a brief, inscrutable, election-shaking letter about emails that may or may not be new or relevant to the previously concluded investigation in Hillary Clinton’s private email server.” Comey, who we must infer clearly understood the bombshell nature of his letter, which came little more than a week before the election, tried to defend himself by claiming he was obligated to inform the Congress as soon as he learned that new information pertaining to the emails had become available. The problem with this explanation, it now appears, is twofold: (1) Comey “knew nothing about the substance of the emails,” which suggests a distasteful rush to judgment (they could have been cookie recipes), and (2) the emails were neither sent to Hillary Clinton, nor were from her, but instead were found on the computer of Anthony Weiner (and I assume you all know who he is). So “breathtakingly rash and irresponsible” was this decision by Comey, says the New York Times, that even the conservative Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley, sent Comey a letter stating, “Your disclosure is not fair to Congress, the American People, or Secretary Clinton.”
When is the last time you heard a senior Republican elected official complain that something wasn’t “fair” to Hillary Clinton? The answer is Never, which means that what Comey did is pretty egregious.
Who is James Comey? We know he is a Republican. He was appointed a Deputy Attorney-General by President George W. Bush. He temporarily left government, to make some serious money, by going to work as General Counsel for Lockheed Martin, but was subsequently (2010) appointed FBI director by President Obama. Why would a liberal Democratic President appoint a career Republican, and one with close ties to the military-industrial complex, to head up the FBI? The best answer seems to be that Obama—already the target of a declaration of war by the Republican Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell—realized he would never get the Senate to confirm a Democrat as FBI director. The move also reinforced the notion, which Obama was keen to advance, that Obama was a bipartisan President, anxious to work with a Republican Party that clearly was as hostile to him as any political party has ever been towards any sitting President.
It is obviously impossible to know what Comey’s true motive was in writing that notorious letter to Congress. His claim that he was simply keeping them informed about new information might be true; it might equally well, and more plausibly, be totally bogus. He might have done it deliberately to tilt the election to Trump (and Trump may well be elected because of Comey’s action). Short of a confession by Comey, which isn’t very likely, we’ll never know, which means that it cannot be determined if he actually violated the Hatch Act. It seems likely that he did. That his behavior “influence[d]…[and] interfer[ed] with or affect[ed] the result of an election” cannot seriously be denied, by even the most ardent Republican.
Which leaves us—where? Should Hillary Clinton be elected President, Comey’s days at the FBI are likely numbered: she will have the power to fire him, and should. Should Trump be elected, no doubt he will sing Comey’s praises, but Trump’s advisors will tell him he’ll have to let Comey go sooner or later (his actual term doesn’t end until 2020), because of the widespread perception that Comey enabled Trump. But it may turn out that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump will have to deal with Comey. Yesterday, the conservative columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens, urged Comey “to do the right thing” and “resign” now. By sending that nefarious letter to Congress, Stephens writes, Comey “lost the trust of his political masters, his congressional overseers and the American public.” That’s coming from a Republican, mind you, not a Hillary supporter.
Well, whatever Comey does, he will eventually land back into the military-industrial complex, make many more millions of dollars, and try to avoid dining out at Washington’s toniest restaurants, where no doubt many of his former friends will no longer be pleased to run into him.
I’ve long had a soft spot for Paso Robles. When you think of how far they’ve come over the last 10-15 years, it’s just amazing. One used to think of this inland Central Coast region as too hot for fine wine, but that was a huge mistake. I’m glad that I recognized its potential early, perhaps sooner than some other critics. In fact I was responsible for Paso Robles being recognized as Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Region of the Year, some years back, against heavy competition. The Cabernets and Bordeaux blends at their highest expression, including Vina Robles, are outstanding, but so are many of the whites and red blends; and prices are a fraction of what you find in Napa-Sonoma. Here are three reviews of current releases from Vina Robles.
Vina Robles 2015 Estate Sauvignon Blanc (Paso Robles): $16. The approach here—early release after the vintage, no oak, no malolactic fermentation, brief sur lie aging in stainless—is proving to be one of the best for California Sauvignon Blanc, preserving the fresh fruit and vital acidity, while the exposure to yeast gives the wine a creamy tartness. The grapes are from the winery’s Jardine Vineyard, on the eastern side of Paso Robles, a warmer area. The warmth accounts for the wine’s ripeness, with suggestions of tropical fruits (papaya especially) in addition to Sauvignon Blanc’s usual lemongrass, grapefruit, honeydew melon and green bell pepper flavors. It’s a super-tasty wine, with a properly dry, clean finish. This is really a very successful Sauvignon Blanc, and tremendously versatile at the table. And what a price point for what you get. Score: 93 points.
Vina Robles 2013 RED4 (Paso Robles): $17. Robust and rustic are good words to describe this darkly-colored red blend. A composite of 41% Petite Sirah and 40% Syrah, with a splash of Mourvedre and Grenache, it’s the kind of wine paisans drink every day at the trattoria. Bone dry and thick in tannins, the flavors are of blackberries, black cherries, pepper, leather and espresso. Unscrew it and drink with burgers, lasagna, pizza and other simple fare that wants a full-bodied red. Score: 86 points.
Vina Robles 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles): $26. Compared to a classic Napa Cabernet, this holds up very well. In fact, there’s better structure here than many of the super-soft, high-alcohol versions up north. It sure has a lot of forward flavors: fresh ripe blackberry and black cherry jam, cocoa puffs, licorice, cassis liqueur and sweet toasted oak. There are considerable tannins that give the wine a bite of astringency, but a good steak or chop will tame them. As for the finish, the flavors last well into a long, spicy aftertaste. It’s a delicious wine, and that price makes it a fantastic value. Why would anyone pay $50, $75 or more for a Cabernet when this is available for $26? Seriously good stuff, highly recommended, and should be easy to find, with more than 16,000 cases produced. Score: 94.
Back in the 1990s, Hillary Clinton famously referred to the “vast rightwing conspiracy” that formed to take her and her husband, President Bill Clinton, down. That conspiracy was led by conservative radicals who today have morphed into what is known as the alt-right, a branch of the Republican party that, twenty years ago, was considered fringe even by senior Republicans like Bob Dole, but has now taken over the party, and may be about to take over the United States of America.
This conspiracy always has been comprised of white nationalists, eccentric Christians, and under-educated rural blue collar workers, mostly men, whose resentments were easy fodder for the conspiracy’s leaders to stoke. The players over these twenty years have changed, although some of them—Rupert Murdoch’s minions, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, remain—but they are all cast from the same mold. Why did Hillary call it a “conspiracy”? Because it was hatched in darkness and anonymity. It remains there today, fueled by dark money, only its leaders now are the foursome of Donald Trump, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, Vladimir Putin and James Comey.
This requires some explaining on my part. Trump is, of course, the latest leader of the conspiracy. With his insults, smears, bullying, racism, misogyny and xenophobia (have I left anything out?), he perfectly articulates the hatred and anger of the alt-right, elevating it to undreamed of rancor. Wikileaks has joined the parade, as I pointed out last week when I showed that Julian Assange is hoping a President Trump will release him from the awful exile he is suffering within the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, a fate he brought upon himself. Putin, who has renewed the Cold War with America and brought it to its most dangerous level in decades yet is admired and even courted by Trump, has joined the conspiracy by having his security forces hack into Democratic emails and then send them on to Wikileaks. And then we come to the most interesting suspect of all, James Comey, the director of the F.B.I., an avowed Republican, lifted to power by George W. Bush. Why did Comey take this particular moment, on the eve of an election Hillary Clinton was bound to win, to drop this phony bombshell? Because he, like Putin and Assange, wants Trump to be President. His motive? We can only speculate, but let history be our guide.
Back in the 1920s, after Germany had lost the First World War and the country was filled with rightwing resentment—as America is today–a conspiracy arose to undermine Germany’s legitimate, democratically-elected government. This conspiracy was between two groups: (1) unofficial, secret, armed rightwing partisans, known as the Freikorps, which were much like today’s tea party-inspired open-carry rightwingers (think of Cliven Bundy and his gang); and (2) the official expression of German power, the German Army. We can think of Comey, and the F.B.I. in general, as the official branch of U.S. armed security power. We thus have, in this unholy alliance, a tacit agreement for the seizure of power by unofficial and official groupings, come together to undermine the Democratic Party and its candidate.
This conspiracy troubles me a great deal, and it should trouble you too. (The German conspiracy, after all, led to Hitler and World War II.) It now looks like Hillary Clinton may lose this election. As you know, I hope not, but if she does, so be it: life goes on, and Democrats will live to fight another day. But I hope, and expect, and will demand, that Democratic leaders, from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on down, will examine this bizarre and troubling gang-up with all the power they have at their disposal. There may be little they can actually do about it, if Trump is elected and the House and Senate remain Republican. But Republicans themselves should want an explanation, even in the delirium they will undoubtedly have should their candidate win. The combination of foreigners—Putin and Assange—and rogue government officials, undermining and influencing an American Presidential election, is unprecedented. It represents a huge threat to the legitimacy of our country. For the director of the F.B.I. to be associated with a plot to bring down a Presidential candidate is treacherous, if not treasonous, and demands explanation. A Democratic Senate or House subcommittee, even in it be in the minority, simply must hold hearings; and the American media simply must pay attention.
No matter who wins this election, we Democrats cannot sing Kumbaya, join hands with a tea party that hates and wishes to destroy us and our values, and let Republican hegemony go unchallenged. We will have to go to the mattresses. If Hillary does indeed win, Republicans will pull out every dirty trick they have, and they have a lot of ugliness in their toolkit, as Trump has shown. If Trump wins, that event should be seen for what it actually is: a calamitous event in the history of our nation. Either way, fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Imagine you’re a juror at the upcoming class action trial against Trump University, scheduled to begin Nov. 28 in San Diego federal court. The now-defunct Trump University, you’ll recall, was the phony “real estate school” that promised to teach students “the secrets of real estate success.” It bilked hundreds of them out of tens of thousands of dollars each by claiming to reveal “Trump’s secret insights into how to make money in real estate.” Of course, it was a scam—which has prompted the class action suit. The presiding judge, you may also recall, was Gonzalo P. Curiel, the same judge Trump called “a hater” who was “unfair” to him because Curiel is “Hispanic,” and because Trump is building that infamous wall along the Mexican border.
Trump couldn’t prevent the lawsuit from going forward, but he wanted Curiel thrown off the case. It didn’t work, but the judge did kindly allow the trial to be postponed until after the Nov. 9 Presidential election.
Now there’s another twist. Trump’s lawyer now is demanding that Judge Curiel not allow the jury to hear important evidence, including any of Trump’s remarks about Curiel—or about Trump’s taxes, or his numerous bankruptcies,, or even the videotape of Trump bragging about grabbing women’s “pussies.”
Trump’s lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli—who represented Fred Goldman in the wrongful death suit against O.J. Simpson and won the Goldman family $8.5 million—said he wants the above information banned from the jury because the trial should not be a test of Trump’s “character,” which even Petrocelli by this argument apparently concedes is horrible, but of Trump’s “management of the university.”
That’s what we call chutzpah in my family.
So if you were a juror in that trial, would you want to hear about Trump’s decades of bad behavior, questionable business practices and other instances of ripping people off, like not paying vendors? On the other hand, it’s almost inconceivable that any of the prospective jurors have not heard all that stuff by now, given the amplitude of media coverage. I would imagine Petrocelli, during voir dire jury selection, will look for the most ignorant, uninformed citizens he can find, incurious, uneducated yahoos who don’t pay attention to current events. After all, that’s Trump’s base, isn’t it?
By the way, if you’re still undecided—which, if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not—here’s one reason to turn the House of Representatives blue. Republicans are already planning to impeach President Hillary Clinton. WTF you say? But it’s true. She hasn’t even been elected yet, and these Tea Partiers are sharpening their pitchforks and oiling up their torches. Isn’t it depraved?
Is there “a critical bias toward red wines” among wine critics? That’s the thesis of a thought-provoking study that examined 64,000 scores from leading publications and found some fascinating tendencies:
- reds score higher than whites
- red wines are over-represented above 90 points
- whites are over-represented below 90 points
So pronounced were these findings, the authors write, that, as the score crosses the critical 90-point threshold, “selling price and selling price variation increased quickly…[with some] lower-rated reds costing more than more highly-rated whites.” For example, a 90-point Napa Cabernet might cost $75 whereas a 93-point Chablis might go for $45.
I came across an article about the study at Jeff Siegel’s Wine Curmudgeon blog. (Sorry, I don’t think the full study is available online, although it is on PDF.)
Siegel found the finding curious: “Something is going on,” he wrote. I agree. But what could it be?
Siegel himself postulated various explanations. Critics may rate red wine higher “because it’s more prestigious.” This leads to a cascade of results: Producers invest more money making red wines than whites “…because consumers are willing to pay for that prestige,” and that greater investment in the production process may result in better wines.
During my decades of being a wine critic, I thought about this topic intensely, although I never reached any definitive conclusions. But it’s pretty obvious when you consider that at the leading wine periodicals, there are more (often far more) 100-point scores for reds than for whites. (This was true for me, too. I never gave a perfect score to a white wine.)
Let’s consider the question of bias, or preconceptions. If you know you’re tasting, say, First-Growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy or Sauternes for that matter, from a great vintage, you’re more likely to yield to the possibility of giving it 100 points than if you’re tasting, say, a Temecula Tempranillo. So, to eliminate that bias, we taste single-blind. But even if you don’t know the individual bottles, if you’re a professional wine critic and your tasting was set up by a staff person, you’re still most likely going to be told the general category. “We’re tasting Premier Cru red Burgundy today from the 2011 vintage,” or “This flight consists of 2013 Napa Valley Cabernets and Bordeaux blends under $40.” Armed with these telltale bits of information, the brain will begin to come to certain conclusions, albeit unconsciously: a below-$40 Napa Cab cannot possibly get 100 points (so the reasoning goes); the best it can aspire to is 96, maybe 97 points, and so that’s what the critic finds when he tastes the wines.
So let’s make the tasting double-blind: nothing is known about the wines except for the color. This is where the bias for red wines (if there is one) comes in. You cannot prevent the critic from knowing the color. (You can always use black glasses, but I know of no critic who routinely uses them in assessing wines.)
The more I think about it, the more I believe there is a bias toward red wines, and I think Siegel stumbled upon the truth. Red wine is perceived as “more prestigious.” To understand why, you have to look at history. The French invented the system of categorizing wines by status (Grand Cru, First Growth and the like), and they tended to reserve their highest categories for red wines. In turn, the British fundamentally invented the game of writing about and critiquing wine, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and they overwhelmingly favored French red wines over whites. They therefore gave their highest plaudits to red wines. Our American and British systems of wine reviewing today—from Oz Clark to Robert Parker—are direct descendants of those British wine writers of yesteryear. The inherent bias toward red wines has filtered down over the centuries and still exists.
Which begs the question: Are red wines actually better than white wines? Well, there is the argument they’re more complex: more skin and seed contact, more oak (usually, at the high end), and so on. Does more complexity = “better”? That’s a hard case to prove. At some point, what we know, or think we know, about wine gets so inextricably bound up with the pure and simple physical experience of tasting it, that it’s impossible to separate the two. Which, come to think about it, is perhaps what makes wine so great: its pleasure is as much intellectual as hedonistic.
In a little-noticed event, a high-ranking United Nations official is urging the world “to make the elimination of tax havens a priority to ensure that corporations, billionaires and ‘kleptocrats’ pay their fair share of taxes.”
The richest one percent is hiding “as much as $32 trillion…held offshore in secrecy jurisdictions escaping just taxation,” the official said. The prime hiding places are Switzerland, Hong Kong and the United States, with “other high-profile jurisdictions” being Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, Malta, Cyprus, Singapore, Liberia and Panama.
The U.N. official is Alfred de Zayas, a human rights expert; in his press conference he urged the U.N. to “take concerted action” against “speculators, hedge funds and transnational enterprises.”
This fits in well with the current discussion about disparities of wealth and the governments that permit it to exist—a powerful discussion here in America, where Bernie Sanders used it as a centerpiece of his populist campaign.
It used to be thought that the extremely wealthy were blessed by God, and so were beyond criticism. We now know that the one percent got their money, and hold onto it, not through God’s intervention, but through a tax system that does not function properly or democratically. When the extremely wealthy have undue access to the highest levels of government—including elected officials and regulators—they often are able to persuade them that laws which would more heavily tax the wealthy actually hurt the poor. This is, of course, Orwellian, but it is an argument to which the Republican Party is particularly receptive.
Even so, at some point, popular disgust with the rich avoiding taxes—a primary cause of income inequality—has risen to such an extent that even Donald Trump is attempting to take advantage of it–falsely, of course. The likely election of Hillary Clinton, as well as the probability that Republicans will keep the House of Representatives, means that if income and estate taxes do go up on the rich, something Hillary Clinton has proposed, Paul Ryan will have to go along. However, the Speaker is adamant in insisting that he will never be party to any plan to raise taxes on anyone.
This would seem to let the rich off scott-free: so much for income and estate taxes. But there is a possibility that, at the very least, Republicans and Democrats could come together on the de Zayas proposal. It’s not clear what the U.N. itself could do; the world organization cannot mandate laws for individual countries. It can, however, place pressure on member states to create their own laws restricting the extent to which the one percent, including corporations, can park their money in tax havens. Even Republicans, after all, might be susceptible to moral arguments concerning the unfairness of tax havens.
Bernie Sanders of course railed against the one percent, and as this position paper he wrote during the primary campaign suggests, he is well aware of tax havens, which he deemed “unacceptable.” As for specifics, Sanders called for new laws to “prevent corporations from avoiding U.S. taxes by claiming to be a foreign company through the establishment of a post office box in a tax haven country.” However, it’s not clear how such a new law would work, or whether it could effectively recover large amounts of money currently out of reach of taxes, or whether it also would apply to the wealthiest individuals and families.
Even if a Clinton administration were to craft specifics about regulating tax havens, would a Ryan-led House go along? Back in 2011, the Obama administration did indeed propose new laws to “crack down on offshore tax havens [that] could produce $210 billion in new tax revenue over the next decade.” Republicans staunchly opposed it, and the proposal went nowhere. And earlier this year, once again, Obama urged Congress to end corporate tax havens that, he said, are “gaming the system.” Republicans again opposed, and the proposal died in the Republican-controlled Congress. The Republican rationale for opposition was expressed by one of the organizations that represent the one percent: “This is a misguided approach that could have a freezing effect on attracting global employers and will damage U.S. competitiveness, which may very well be measured in lost jobs, wages and GDP.” That’s the standard Republican pitch for not regulating tax havens. Who said it? The CEO of the Organization for International Investment, a Washington-based nonprofit funded by some of world’s biggest corporations, including GlaxoSmithKline, Toyota, Deutsche Telekom, Credit Suisse and Chubb. These clearly are the kinds of wealthy entities that hide their money in tax havens. Of course they would be opposed to transparency and paying their fair share. They, with their Republican friends, can be expected to strongly oppose any attempt to regulate tax havens, which means that—even if the Senate turns Democratic–as long as the House of Representatives remains controlled by Republicans, wealthy individuals and corporations will continue to hide their money overseas, and avoid paying their fair share.
We can only dream about how much better America would be if we could recover even a portion of the trillions of dollars now being hidden by the rich. The money could go into roads, bridges, tunnels and the rest of our decaying infrastructure. We could increase teacher salaries, as well as those of our volunteer military. Cities and local jurisdictions could better invest in affordable housing for the middle class. We could invest more in alternative energy, in early childhood education, in daycare, in preventive healthcare, in training and career education. The wish list goes on and on. Sadly, Republicans, for some bizarre reason known only to them, do not appear to want such good things to happen. When they say they do, they lie: watch their deeds, not their words.