Politics

A TAKE ON THE NORTH KOREA-TRUMP SITCH THAT STARTED LIGHT BUT GOT REAL DARK, REAL FAST

Header photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense 

I can’t decide if Twitter jokes about nuclear war makes me want to laugh or cry, and really that’s the best description I can think of for Twitter – and the internet world in general.

So I’m coming off working my first freelance job, and it was very exciting but a little draining for someone who, until now, has considered wearing pants with zippers to be the greatest triumph of any given day. So I almost considered skipping this, because I knew it would have to be about the whole Trump-North Korea thing and I just wasn’t ready to put on my journalist hat. But then I realized, infusing humor and drama into politics is what I do best. So I’m going to give you a Casual Cool Hip Take on the Trump-North Korea dramz.


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Humor, Politics, pop culture

JARED KUSHNER’S CLOSED-SESSION MEETING WITH SENATE INTELLIGENCE

Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the president, has stated, after his closed-session meeting with Senate intelligence staffers, “I did not collude with Russia.”


Photo source: Bravo via Jezebel


Do you remember when you were a little kid, and you did something wrong (broke a fancy glass; accidentally deleted a work file off your parents’ computer; failed a math test) and you had the rest of the afternoon to figure out a good-enough lie to tell to your parents when they got home?

And when they got home, you totally blew the secret because you told the lie in its shiny, well-packaged entirety before your parents even had a chance to discover what you had accidentally done. “And that’s why I failed that test,” you said, vibrating with your lie.

Your parents gave you a long, measured look before calling you on your shit. And even as you were telling it, you knew that they wouldn’t buy it. The truth is weird and messy and doesn’t make sense. Lies, especially lies that you’ve had enough time to concoct, are too clean.

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Politics

TRUMP’S LATEST TWEETS: RHETORIC TOWARDS WOMEN AND THE CONNOTATIONS OF “CRAZY”

Beyond simply ignoring or sidestepping questions about Trump’s Twitter actions, his communications staff, like Sarah Huckabee Sanders and First Lady Melania Trump, are endorsing it.


On Thursday morning, President Trump sent out a series of tweets directed at two of the co-anchors of Morning Joe, the MSNBC morning show, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. In the tweets, he accused the “poorly rated” show of talking badly about him and coming to Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach golf club. In the last tweet, he made a particularly low attack towards Brzezinski, saying that she was “bleeding badly from a face-lift.”

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Politics

TRUMP’S 2005 TAX FORMS ON THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW AND WHY THEY’RE IMPORTANT

 

I didn’t watch The Rachel Maddow Show live when it was revealing Trump’s 2005 tax returns—because I don’t have a TV and also I probably wouldn’t have anyway—but I was scrolling through Twitter in the hours before, during and after, and from what I gathered, it was a bit of a letdown. After months of intense wondering about what Trump’s tax returns would reveal, the paltry two-page report from 2005 did not live up to the hype.

Celebrities tweeted that the reveal was unimpressive, and journalist Joe Scarborough suggested that Trump himself could’ve leaked the returns to distract from his current agenda, as well as to silence those still asking for the full receipts. David Cay Johnston, the journalist who first received the 1040, offered up that same theory as one possibility as well.

But just because the 2005 Form 1040 didn’t have any explosive revelations doesn’t mean that it’s not incredibly valuable in understanding Trump’s finances.

Because I care—about our country, and about you—I did some research so you don’t have to. I literally know nothing about tax returns, so I did some digging around to see what the hullabaloo is about.

The 1040 is the basic tax return system, documenting Trump’s annual income, his losses in income, and the amount of money he filed in taxes. Against an income of roughly $153 million, Trump reported $103 million in losses, which according to the Washington Post could include depreciation and sums carried over from previous years, and paid $38 million in taxes.

Here’s where things get interesting. Trump paid that $38 million in taxes because of something called the Alternative Minimum Tax, a parallel tax system that, according to the Wall Street Journal, is “designed to make sure that high-income individuals can’t use legal deductions and credits to avoid all income taxes.”

From what I’m able to understand, the AMT recognizes that, for most people, having roughly 67 percent of your income in loss (the $103 million loss against the $153 million income) would be detrimental. However, the AMT is designed for wealthy individuals, and forces them to pay taxes accordingly. Without the AMT, Trump would, due to his losses, paid a little over $5 million, according to David Cay Johnston—the investigative reporter who first had the tax returns dropped in his mailbox. $5 million is 3.5 percent of Trump’s income, which is less than half of what people who make $33,000 a year pay in taxes.

So the AMT prevented Trump from taking advantage of his losses and paying next-to-nothing (for him) in taxes. And the most interesting part is that Trump proposes to cut the AMT in his upcoming tax plan. Republicans in Congress, like Speaker Paul Ryan, want to get rid of the AMT in their next goal after healthcare. I don’t really understand why they would pursue tax cuts for the extremely wealthy, except that it would be a harkening back to Reaganomics.

In my VERY preliminary research—so if anyone has more information, please let me know—Reagan gave cuts on federal income tax and capital gains tax, along with a decrease in government regulation and government spending, with the idea that—with more capital—companies would invest more money into their spending, their workers and infrastructure. This is also called supply-side economics, which argued that economic growth comes from investing in capital. Reagan was dealing with stagflation, and from what I’m able to understand, his economics brought an end to that recession. And while Reagan saw a decrease in poverty, the level shot up after he left office to higher than before, and Reaganomics—while it did increase GDP—did not benefit the middle class in the way that it promised to. While still impressive, job creation under Reagan was lower than under Clinton and Carter.

But this isn’t an economics class, and even though when I wear a turtleneck and glasses I look like an economics professor who was Seventeen Again-ed, I’m not an economics professor.

 

So let’s focus on why Trump’s tax returns are important, even if they weren’t as flashy as one might’ve hoped. They’re important because they show us his motivation. Trump would’ve saved $33 million if the AMT were eliminated. That’s a pretty impressive amount. And while Trump has already claimed that utilizing tax loopholes makes him very smart, that’s still capital that is being lost in the economy. The GOP says that even with the elimination of the AMT, closing other tax loopholes will make up for that loss. But when we have a president who won’t release his full tax returns, how can we trust anything they say?

Releasing full tax returns would show exactly how much Trump has given to charity (he claims to be very charitable, and giving to charity is a tax write-off), from where he gets his income, and exactly what entities he might be beholden to. Since we don’t know any of this, we don’t know what policies Trump makes that would be beneficial to his benefactors or his businesses. We know nothing. Every presidential candidate since 1976, besides Gerald Ford who only released summary tax data, has released their tax returns. The Clintons have released tax information dating back to the 1970s. It alerts people to possible red flags and conflicts of interest. By withholding his own, Trump is hiding his own possible conflicts.

Johnston, towards the end of his interview with Maddow, said, “I’ve been at this for 50 years…Every time some high-level politician wants to hide something, it always turns out there’s a reason. They’ve got something to hide.”

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Politics, pop culture

KELLYANNE CONWAY IS THE VICKI GUNVALSON OF POLITICS AND MEDIA

As a journalist, you spend a lot of your time writing about the news. You spend a lot of time thinking about it, dissecting it, following it. And some people have iron heads and they can handle that constant rotation of news. Others—like me—are too pretty to have iron heads (so unflattering) and are not capable of being news robots.

A lot of what I’ve been writing about—for class, for this blog, for the Odyssey—have been centered around politics. It’s impossible to avoid, and as it became incorporated to my brand, it became more and more important for me to cover. That had negative results—after the election, I was so desperately brain-dead that I went completely off the grid and couldn’t even think about anything. Because as much as we cover it, we are consumed with it and we let it ingrain inside of us.

So maybe in a few weeks/days/hours I’ll decide to boycott politics for a while and just write about my NEW CAMEL COAT (ugh so chic) but there’s still things to be said and things to cover, and, y’all, I’m soldiering on.

Someone on my Twitter timeline posted a link to a GQ article. It was primarily in response to the Chuck Todd-Kellyanne Conway interview where Chuck Todd was desperately trying to understand why the new Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, lied about the easily provable facts of Trump’s inauguration.

“You sent the Press Secretary out there to utter falsehoods on the smallest, pettiest thing,” said an exasperated Chuck Todd.

Kellyanne, twirling those ribbons that rhythmic gymnasts in Russia use, flailed around the questions, whipped the curls of fabric in Todd’s face until they coiled around his neck.

“Our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts,” she said as Todd’s face turned purple from disbelief and lack of oxygen. And when he had slumped out of frame, Conway unfurled the ribbons from around his neck, wrapped them up tightly and put them back into her holsters.

Wiping the sweat of her hands off on her blue dress, the eyeshadow smudging darkly around her eyes, Kellyanne caught a glimpse of herself in the window’s reflection as she left the green screen behind. Her face was hollow, mouth tightly set. She pulled out the tiny list crumpled in her pocket and sliced a line through Chuck Todd’s name with the precision of a French Revolution executioner. Squaring her shoulders and applying more eyeshadow to her lids—obscuring them and hiding the windows to her soul—she slinked off to her next target. And so on. And so on. Forever.

Okay, so that didn’t happen—but didn’t it sound like it could’ve?

In the article, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen proposed on the Recode Media podcast with Peter Kafka that news outlets should no longer have Kellyanne on.

And the implications of that—what they say about where we are as journalists—are staggering.

To disavow and cut off contact with the White House—willingly—seems unbelievable. And if this were a normal world—and not season three of Black Mirror—it would be unbelievable. But Rosen laid out probably the saddest and more logical argument for it.

“It’s not just lying or spin or somebody who is skilled in the political arts of putting the best case on things or not answering a question, which is a pretty basic method of doing politis. It’s that when you are done listening to Kellyanne Conway, you probably understand less. That’s the problem.”

If I’ve learned anything from Scandal (I’ve learned a bunch, thank you Shonda Rimes), it’s that the press secretary is often put in a difficult position. They have to balance the president, the truth and the press. But Abby was able to do it. Sometimes it involves a version of the truth; sometimes it involves moving on to the next question. But the press secretary always does their job.

So what made Chuck Todd, and I and a lot of people, so incredulous was the fact that this was such minutiae. Spicer was lying about the size of the crowds at the inauguration. He said this was the most attended and most watched inauguration of all time. That’s, like, so not true. And there’s photographic evidence to prove it (side by side evidence of Obama’s first inauguration and Trump’s inauguration). It’s so easily provable that it’s ridiculous.

Spicer could’ve walked in, fielded questions and addressed the attendance. He could’ve said, “President Trump (ugh, gag) has more important things to worry about than the size of attendance at his inauguration. He has a country to run.” THAT WOULD’VE BEEN BETTER. Dickish, but better. But to lie proves that it bothers Trump so much that people aren’t falling down at his feet. It kills him that nobody showed up for his inauguration but the NEXT DAY we had the largest march in modern history.

Rosen’s comment was at the end of a conversation about the typical journalistic efforts for impartiality—impartiality relies on reaching out for comment to both sides. But when one side consists of Trump, Conway and Spicer—three people who will give you radically different answers (all wrong) to the same question, actually not even answering the question in the process—it becomes infinitely more muddled. Why are we doing this? We’re not getting any more information. We’re not getting things any clearer.

And journalists are doing backbends trying to cope with having two sides where one side is just a funhouse mirror.

So the answer is simple: if having Kellyanne on just makes the truth more muddled, then you have to cut it off. We, you, journalists, have an obligation to the truth—above all else. Anyone who gets in the way of that is expendable.

Sometimes it’s not worth it. On The Real Housewives of Orange County, Vicki Gunvalson said her boyfriend, Brooks Ayers, had cancer. Turns out he didn’t, and all the other ladies wanted to know how much Vicki knew. She obviously knew a lot, because they were in a relationship and she never went to any of his doctor’s appointments or chemo treatments, etc. And she lied for him, endlessly. She, to this day, has not really admitted that he doesn’t have cancer. She has not admitted that she knew anything.

And so I have a lot of experience with blonde ladies who have a loose relationship with the truth. And this is what I’ve learned: they won’t change (even when you are mean to them in Ireland) and so at a certain point, you have to refuse to engage. Because what they want more than anything else is attention, and even negative attention feeds that addiction. So you cut them off. You don’t let them spew their bullshit. You shut it down.

But the difference between Kellyanne Conway and Vicki Gunvalson is that Vicki Gunvalson doesn’t have the ear of the guy with access to nuclear codes. Vicki is dumb, but harmless, and infinitely entertaining. But Conway has so little regard for the truth and so little respect for the American people that she having access to Trump—who is proven to be volatile and rash—is terrifying.

So maybe we’ve come to the point where we can’t engage with Kellyanne. Where having her on screen puts more danger into the world than good. And it’s scary to admit that this is where we are as journalists, but we have promises to the American people—we must not harm. (I know that’s the Hippocratic oath but stick with me). And she’s definitely causing us harm.

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