The Empire Expands

Not the American One, But Trump’s

President Trump, his children and their spouses, aren’t just using the Oval Office to augment their political legacy or secure future riches. Okay, they certainly are doing that, but that’s not the most useful way to think about what’s happening at the moment. Everything will make more sense if you reimagine the White House as simply the newest branch of the Trump family business empire, its latest outpost.

It turns out that the voters who cast their ballots for Donald Trump, the patriarch, got a package deal for his whole clan. That would include, of course, first daughter Ivanka who, along with her husband, Jared Kushner, is now a key political adviser to the president of the United States. Both now have offices in the White House close to him. They have multiple security clearances, access to high-level leaders whenever they visit the Oval Office or Mar-a-Lago, and the perfect formula for the sort of brand-enhancement that now seems to come with such eminence. President Trump may have an exceedingly “flexible” attitude toward policymaking generally, but in one area count on him to be stalwart and immobile: his urge to run the White House like a business, a family business.

The ways that Jared, “senior adviser to the president,” and Ivanka, “assistant to the president,” have already benefited from their links to “Dad” in the first 100 days of his presidency stagger the imagination. Ivanka’s company, for instance, won three new trademarks for its products from China on the very day she dined with President Xi Jinping at her father’s Palm Beach club.

In a similar fashion, thanks to her chance to socialize with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, her company could be better positioned for deal negotiations in his country. One of those perks of family power includes nearing a licensing agreement with Japanese apparel giant Sanei International, whose parent company’s largest stakeholder is the Development Bank of Japan — an entity owned by the Japanese government. We are supposed to buy the notion that the concurrent private viewing of Ivanka’s products in Tokyo was a coincidence of the scheduling fairy. Yet since her father became president, you won’t be surprised to learn that global sales of her merchandise have more or less gone through the roof.

Here’s where things get tricky. We can’t pinpoint the exact gains generated from any one meeting of the next generation Trump. They rely on the idea that, because their brand was so huge to begin with, profits and deals would have come anyway. That’s why we won’t ever see their books or tax returns.

Conflicts of interest? They now permeate the halls of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but none of this will affect or change one thing President Trump holds dear — and believe it or not, it’s not the wishes of his base in the American heartland. It’s advancing his flesh and blood, and their flesh-and-blood-once-removed spouses and relatives.

Federal Regulations and Trump Family Interpretations

The Trumps and Kushners will behave in ways that will benefit their global businesses. There’s just one catch. They have to get away with it, legally speaking. So the first law of family business in the Oval Office turns out to be: get stellar legal counsel. And they’ve done that. Their lawyers have by now successfully created trusts that theoretically — but only theoretically — separate Ivanka from her businesses and deflect any accusations over activities that may, now or in the future, violate federal rules. And there are two of those in particular to consider.

The Code of Federal Regulations is a set of rules published by the executive departments and agencies of the government. Title 18 section 208 of that code deals with “acts affecting a personal financial interest.” This criminal conflict of interest statute states “an officer or employee of the executive branch of the United States Government” can’t have a “financial interest” in the result of their duties. What that should mean, legally speaking, for a family occupying the executive office is: Ivanka could not have dinner with the president of China while her business was applying for and receiving provisional approval of pending trademarks from his country, if one of those acts might impact the other. To an outsider, the connection between those acts seems obvious enough and it’s bound to be typical of what’s to come.

Meanwhile, there are real penalties for being convicted of violating this rule. These include fines or imprisonment or both as set forth in section 216 of Title 18.

Certain lawyers have argued that Ivanka’s and Jared’s appointments don’t violate Rule 208 or other nepotism statutes because they are not paid advisers to the president. In other words, because Ivanka doesn’t get a salary for her service to her… uh, country… conflicts automatically vanish. She’s already done her Trumptilian best to demonstrate her affinity for ethical behavior by cordoning herself off from her business responsibilities (sort of). According to the New York Times, “Ivanka has transferred her brand’s assets into a trust overseen by her brother-in-law, Josh Kushner, and sister-in-law, Nicole Meyer.” Phew, no family connections there! Or maybe she just doesn’t care for her siblings-in-law.

But not all assets, it turns out, are created equal. So the daughter-in-chief will, it seems, keep her stake in the Trump International Hotel, a 15-minute stroll from the White House, which just happens to boast “the Ivanka Trump Suite” and “The Spa by Ivanka Trump.” (“The Spa by Ivanka Trump™ and Fitness Center transitions guests from the Technogym setting of the Fitness Center to the tranquil spa haven that is calming, balancing, purifying, revitalizing, and healing…”) There, many a foreign diplomat or special interest mogul can “calm, energize, [and] restore” himself or herself, while angling for an “in” with the family. We don’t know precisely the nature of what the Trump family stands to gain from the hotel because its books aren’t made public, but it’s reasonable to assume that we’re not talking losses. Besides this other D.C. domain, Ivanka and Jared will remain the beneficiaries of their mutual business empires now valued at about three quarters of a billion dollars, according to White House ethics filings.

But wait. There’s an even more explicit rule against using public office (like, say, the White House) for private gain: Title 5 section 2635.702. On that subject, the section states that “an employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service, or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.”

Okay, that’s wordy. And though the rule doesn’t apply to the president or vice president — we have Nelson Rockefeller to thank for that, but more on him later — for any other executive office position, the rule explains that “status as an employee is unaffected by pay or leave status.” That means that you can’t say someone is not an employee just because she isn’t drawing a paycheck, which means she isn’t, in fact, exempt just because she can’t show a W-2 form.

The second rule of family business is undoubtedly: control the means of enforcement. And President Trump just got his man onto the Supreme Court, so even if ethical charges rose to the highest court in the land, the family has at least a little insurance.

Bankers and Presidents: A Walk Through History

The idea of powerful bloodlines collaborating is nothing new in either business or politics. At the turn of the twentieth century, mogul families routinely intermarried to spawn yet more powerful and profitable business empires. And when it comes to Oval Office politics, American history is littered with multi-generational public servants with blood ties to presidents. Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert, a Republican, served as secretary of war in the administrations of Presidents James Garfield and Chester Arthur, and finally as U.S. minister to Great Britain during President Benjamin Harrison’s administration. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s son, John, became a decorated brigadier-general, served as assistant staff secretary in the White House while his father was in office and was later appointed ambassador to Belgium under President Richard Nixon (once his father’s vice-president). But neither of them inflated the coffers of the family business in the process.

Whether family business connections might influence prominent figures in the White House isn’t a subject new to the Trump era either. In 1974, when Gerald Ford, who took over the presidency after Richard Nixon’s impeachment, nominated Nelson Rockefeller to be his vice president, Nelson’s brother David ran the Chase Manhattan Bank (now JPMorgan Chase). Questions naturally arose about the notorious wealth and political reach of the Rockefeller family. Nelson, the grandson of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, had even worked at the bank and had been on the boards of multiple oil companies.

That same year, the Department of Justice conveniently concluded that conflict of interest laws did not apply to the office of the vice president — but not before Democratic Senator Robert Byrd asked, “Can’t we at least agree… that the influence is there, that it is a tremendous influence, that it is more influence than any president or vice president ever had?” And yet, as fabulously wealthy and linked in as Nelson Rockefeller was, his situation doesn’t even compare to the family business tangle in the Trump White House.

There have been other family members than the Trumps and Jared Kushner in positions of significance in the White House. When, for instance, Woodrow Wilson fell gravely ill in 1919, his second wife, Edith, stepped in to act on his behalf, essentially running the government in a blanket of secrecy from his bedside. Her intention, however, was never to make hay with a family business, but to ensure that her husband’s policies prevailed. The two Bush presidents, with a business and banking legacy that snaked back a century, were elected, not handed power. And though Bill Clinton’s reign in the Oval Office enabled wife Hillary to garner enough public recognition (and banking connections) to successfully run for senator in New York State, become secretary of state under President Obama, and launch two ultimately unsuccessful presidential bids, the Clintons only became super-wealthy after Bill’s time in office. Though their charity foundation’s ties to foreign governments remain suspect, they never had a private business while Bill was in the White House.

What can’t be found in the historical record is someone’s child, wife, or relations holding court in the West Wing while expanding a family business, no less a network of them. The present situation, in other words, is unique in the annals of American history. Only 100 days into Donald Trump’s presidency, he already has something of the look of the authoritarian kleptocrats elsewhere on the planet who siphon state wealth into their own bank accounts and businesses.

And remember, the Trump empire is also the Kushner empire. Jared’s family business depends on global investors hailing from countries that just happen to be in his White House portfolio. He, for example, led the efforts to prepare for the state visit to Mar-a-Lago of the Chinese president (while the Kushner business was engaged in high-level talks with a major Chinese financial conglomerate). A Russian state-owned bank under U.S. sanctions whose chairman met with Jared in December referred to him as the head of Kushner Companies, though he was already visibly if not yet officially a Trump adviser.

He is similarly the administration’s point man for Middle East “peace,” even though his family has financial relationships with Israel. Meanwhile, in his role as head of the newly formed White House Office of American Innovation, the potential opportunities to fuse government and private business opportunities are likely to prove endless.

Nepotism on Parade

Faced with the dynasty-crushing possibility of selling his business or even placing it in a blind trust, Donald Trump chose instead to let his two older sons, Eric and Donald Jr., manage it. Talk about smoke and mirrors. While speaking with Forbes in March, Eric indicated that he would provide his father with updates on the Trump Organization “quarterly” — but who truly believes that father and sons won’t discuss the family empire far more frequently than that?

The family has already racked up a laundry list of global conflicts of interest that suggest ways in which the White House is likely to become a moneymaking vehicle for the Trump line. There’s Turkey, for instance, where the Trump Organization already has a substantial investment, and where President Trump recently called President Recip Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on his power-grabbing, anti-democratic victory in a disputed election to change the country’s constitution. Given Trump business interests globally, you could multiply that call by the world.

Meanwhile, Ivanka’s brand isn’t just doing business as usual, it’s killing it. Since 2017, according to the Associated Press, “global sales of Ivanka Trump merchandise have surged.” As a sign of that, the brand’s imports, mostly from China, have more than doubled over the previous year. As for her husband, he remained the CEO of Kushner Companies through January, only then abdicating his management role in that real-estate outfit and 58 other businesses, though remaining the sole primary beneficiary of most of the associated family trusts. His and Ivanka’s children are secondary beneficiaries. That means any policy decision he promotes could, for better or worse, affect the family business and it doesn’t take a genius to know which of those options he’s likely to choose.

Kleptocrats, Inc.

Despite an already mind-boggling set of existing conflicts of interest, ranging from business affiliations with oligarchs connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to the Secret Service and the Pentagon leasing space in Trump Tower (for at least $3 million per year), the Trump family business is now looking to the glorious, long haul. The family is already scouting for a second hotel in Washington. Trump has reportedly used nearly $500,000 from early campaign money raised for his own 2020 presidential bid to bolster the biz. It’s evidently been poured into “Trump-owned restaurants, hotels and golf clubs,” as well as rent at Trump Tower in New York City.

According to the latest polls, the majority of registered voters believe that the installation of Ivanka and Jared in the White House is inappropriate. But that could matter less to Donald Trump. Ask Stephen Bannon or Chris Christie what happens when Ivanka or Jared don’t like you. That’s the family version of mob-style power.

Ivanka noted in her book, The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life, that “in business, as in life, nothing is ever handed to you.” Except, of course, when your father is president and he hands you the keys to grow the family business on a silver platter.

Four decades ago, at a Senate hearing on his potential conflicts of interest, Vice President Rockefeller was asked, “Can you separate the interests of big business from the national interest when they differ?” It’s a question some senator should pose to Ivanka and Jared, replacing “big business” with “big family business.”

Making the future yet murkier, the family may be on the precipice of major problems. The most striking of them: Kushner’s marquee building, 666 Fifth Ave (an 80-story, ultra-luxury Manhattan skyscraper) has a greater than 25% vacancy rate. It hasn’t made enough money to even cover its interest payments for several years, and in two years it will have to pay principal as well on its $1.2 billion mortgage. That’s going to hurt if foreign companies don’t step in to staunch the flow of dollars out of the firm and that, undoubtedly, could require a quid pro quo or two.

In our era, it’s no secret that presidents leave office with the promise of quickly growing exponentially wealthier. But for the first family to gain such wealth while still in the White House would be a first. Yet the process that could make that possible already seems to be well underway. All this, as Donald Trump, his children, and his son-in-law continue to carve out an unprecedented role for themselves as America’s business-managers-in-chief, presiding not so much over the country as over their own expanding imperial domains.

— source tomdispatch.com by Nomi Prins

American Geophysical Union Sells Its Scientific Integrity For $35,000 In ExxonMobil Money

Apparently you can buy the scientific integrity of the entire American Geophysical Union (AGU) for $35,000. Well, maybe you can’t, but oil giant ExxonMobil can.

In February, 100 AGU members and other earth and climate scientists wrote an open letter to the board of 62,000-member group urging it to stop taking sponsorship money form ExxonMobil. The scientists urged the AGU to live up to its 2015 board-approved policy that says AGU will only partner with (i.e. take more than $5,000 from) organizations that meet “the highest standards of scientific integrity, that do not harm AGU’s brand and reputation, and that share a vested interest in and commitment to advancing and communicating science and its power to ensure a sustainable future.”

On Thursday, the AGU board announced that — after reviewing the detailed report on ExxonMobil along with the peer-reviewed literature and other publicly available information — it wasn’t going to cut ties with Exxon.

— source thinkprogress.org

The economy depends on them, but they’re cracking

American consumers are holding $1 trillion in revolving credit, mostly in credit card debt. So how well is this segment of consumer debt holding up?

Synchrony Financial – GE’s spin-off that issues credit cards for Walmart and Amazon – disclosed on Friday that, despite assurances to the contrary just three months ago, net charge-off would rise to at least 5% this year. Its shares plunged 16% and are down 27% year-to-date.

Credit-card specialist Capital One disclosed in its Q1 earnings report last week that provisions for credit losses rose to $2 billion, with net charge-offs jumping 28% year-over-year to $1.5 billion.

Synchrony, Capital One, and Discover – a gauge of how well over-indebted consumers are managing to hang on – have together increased their Q1 provisions for bad loans by 36% year-over-year. So this is happening.

Other worries about consumer debt in the US are piling up. The $1.4 trillion in student loans are already in crisis, though the government backs them, and they cannot be charged off in bankruptcy. Mortgage debt is still hanging in there, given the surge in home prices that make defaults unlikely. But of the $1.1 trillion in auto loans, subprime loans packaged into asset backed securities are getting crushed by net charge-off rates that are worse than during the Financial Crisis.

The US economy is fueled by credit. Americans turning themselves into debt slaves makes it tick. Take it away, and what little growth there is – nearly zero in the first quarter – will dissipate into ambient air altogether. So it’s time to take the pulse of our American debt slaves

In a new study, life insurer and financial services provider Northwestern Mutual found that 45% of Americans that have debt spend “up to half of their monthly income on debt repayment.” Those are the true debt slaves.

Excluding mortgage debt, American carry an average debt of $37,000. Of them, 47% carry $25,000 or more, and more than 10% carry $100,000 or more in debt, excluding mortgage debt.

Most of them expect to get out of debt before they die, but 14% expect to be in debt “for the rest of their lives.”

This debt adds stress. About 40% said that debt has a “substantial” or “moderate” impact on their financial security; and about as many consider debt a “high” or “moderate” source of anxiety. Given the rising defaults, this is likely to get worse.

And what changes would most positively affect their financial situations? The top two: earning more money (29%) and getting rid of debt (26%). Alas, those two, for many people, are precisely the most elusive factors in the current economy.

But there is a lot of irony in how Americans look at debt. The study asked them what they would do with a $2,000 windfall: 40% said they’d pay down debt. And this is the irony: they’d pay down their maxed out credit cards, but a few months later, their credit cards would be maxed out again, and thus that $2,000 would be consumed. Because the money always has to get spent.

It’s not like consumers don’t know this. According to the study, one quarter of Americans flagged “excessive/frivolous” spending as the financial pitfall they are prone to. And how are these debt slaves keeping the plates spinning? According to the study:

35% said they pay as much as they can on each of their debts each month.
19% said they pay off debts with the highest interest first and make minimum payments to others.”
18% (and 25% of Millennials) said they pay what I can when they can.
17% make minimum monthly payments to each creditor.

The study didn’t say how many of them are beginning to fall behind on their debts. But that number is growing, as the soaring net charge-offs at Capital One, Synchrony, and Discover show.

“One of the hardest challenges is resisting the urge to splurge on items that are beyond our budget,” explained Rebekah Barsch, VP of planning, Northwestern Mutual. “While giving into temptation can feel good in the short-term, it often contributes to an ongoing cycle of buy and borrow that can become hard to escape.”

All the more so because buy-and-borrow has become the replacement American dream for a large number of people – with the corollary: if you can borrow more, you can buy more. But these debt slaves are a crucial driver of the economy. Spending money they don’t have on goods and services they cannot afford and may not need keeps the economy from sinking. If they ever started living within their means and paying off debt as they go, the economy would quickly reveal its true colors.

— source wolfstreet.com

Now Just Five Men Own Almost as Much Wealth as Half the World’s Population

Last year it was 8 men, then down to 6, and now almost 5.

While Americans fixate on Trump, the super-rich are absconding with our wealth, and the plague of inequality continues to grow. An analysis of 2016 data found that the poorest five deciles of the world population own about $410 billion in total wealth. As of 06/08/17, the world’s richest five men owned over $400 billion in wealth. Thus, on average, each man owns nearly as much as 750 million people.

Why Do We Let a Few People Shift Great Portions of the World’s Wealth to Themselves?

Most of the super-super-rich are Americans. We the American people created the Internet, developed and funded Artificial Intelligence, and built a massive transportation infrastructure, yet we let just a few individuals take almost all the credit, along with hundreds of billions of dollars.

Defenders of the out-of-control wealth gap insist that all is OK, because, after all, America is a ‘meritocracy’ in which the super-wealthy have ‘earned’ all they have. They heed the words of Warren Buffett: “The genius of the American economy, our emphasis on a meritocracy and a market system and a rule of law has enabled generation after generation to live better than their parents did.”

But it’s not a meritocracy. Children are no longer living better than their parents did. In the eight years since the recession the Wilshire Total Market valuation has more than TRIPLED, rising from a little over $8 trillion to nearly $25 trillion. The great majority of it has gone to the very richest Americans. In 2016 alone, the richest 1% effectively shifted nearly $4 trillion in wealth away from the rest of the nation to themselves, with nearly half of the wealth transfer ($1.94 trillion) coming from the nation’s poorest 90%—the middle and lower classes. That’s over $17,000 in housing and savings per lower-to-middle-class household lost to the super-rich.

A meritocracy? Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos have done little that wouldn’t have happened anyway. ALL modern U.S. technology started with—and to a great extent continues with—our tax dollars and our research institutes and our subsidies to corporations.

Why Do We Let Unqualified Rich People Tell Us How To Live? Especially Bill Gates!

In 1975, at the age of 20, Bill Gates founded Microsoft with high school buddy Paul Allen. At the time Gary Kildall’s CP/M operating system was the industry standard. Even Gates’ company used it. But Kildall was an innovator, not a businessman, and when IBM came calling for an OS for the new IBM PC, his delays drove the big mainframe company to Gates. Even though the newly established Microsoft company couldn’t fill IBM’s needs, Gates and Allen saw an opportunity, and so they hurriedly bought the rights to another local company’s OS — which was based on Kildall’s CP/M system. Kildall wanted to sue, but intellectual property law for software had not yet been established. Kildall was a maker who got taken.

So Bill Gates took from others to become the richest man in the world. And now, because of his great wealth and the meritocracy myth, MANY PEOPLE LOOK TO HIM FOR SOLUTIONS IN VITAL AREAS OF HUMAN NEED, such as education and global food production.

—Gates on Education: He has promoted galvanic skin response monitors to measure the biological reactions of students, and the videotaping of teachers to evaluate their performances. About schools he said, “The best results have come in cities where the mayor is in charge of the school system. So you have one executive, and the school board isn’t as powerful.”

—Gates on Africa: With investments in or deals with Monsanto, Cargill, and Merck, Gates has demonstrated his preference for corporate control over poor countries deemed unable to help themselves. But no problem—according to Gates, “By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world.”

Warren Buffett: Demanding To Be Taxed at a Higher Rate (As Long As His Own Company Doesn’t Have To Pay)

Warren Buffett has advocated for higher taxes on the rich and a reasonable estate tax. But his company Berkshire Hathaway has used “hypothetical amounts” to ‘pay’ its taxes while actually deferring $77 billion in real taxes.

Jeff Bezos: $50 Billion in Less Than Two Years, and Fighting Taxes All the Way

Since the end of 2015 Jeff Bezos has accumulated enough wealth to cover the entire $50 billion U.S. housing budget, which serves five million Americans. Bezos, who has profited greatly from the Internet and the infrastructure built up over many years by many people with many of our tax dollars, has used tax havens and high-priced lobbyists to avoid the taxes owed by his company.

Mark Zuckerberg (6th Richest in World, 4th Richest in America)

While Zuckerberg was developing his version of social networking at Harvard, Columbia University students Adam Goldberg and Wayne Ting built a system called Campus Network, which was much more sophisticated than the early versions of Facebook. But Zuckerberg had the Harvard name and better financial support. It was also alleged that Zuckerberg hacked into competitors’ computers to compromise user data.

Now with his billions he has created a ‘charitable’ foundation, which in reality is a tax-exempt limited liability company, leaving him free to make political donations or sell his holdings, all without paying taxes.

Everything has fallen into place for young Zuckerberg. Nothing left to do but run for president.

The False Promise of Philanthropy

Many super-rich individuals have pledged the majority of their fortunes to philanthropic causes. That’s very generous, if they keep their promises. But that’s not really the point.

American billionaires all made their money because of the research and innovation and infrastructure that make up the foundation of our modern technologies. They have taken credit, along with their massive fortunes, for successes that derive from society rather than from a few individuals. It should not be any one person’s decision about the proper use of that wealth. Instead a significant portion of annual national wealth gains should be promised to education, housing, health research, and infrastructure. That is what Americans and their parents and grandparents have earned after a half-century of hard work and productivity.

— source commondreams.org by Paul Buchheit

Donald Trump inauguration bankrolled by corporate giants

Numerous corporate powerhouses and individual business titans — including fossil fuel, financial and food and beverage interests with lucrative business before the federal government — helped fund President Donald Trump’s inauguration, according to a new disclosure filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The donations earned contributors exclusive access during inauguration weekend to Trump, his family, top administration officials and exclusive events conducted on January 20 and January 21 in Washington, D.C.

Top individual donors were led by billionaire casino mogul and top Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, at $5 million, according to an initial Center for Public Integrity review of the Trump inauguration disclosure.

At least six National Football League franchise owners each gave Trump’s inaugural committee $1 million: Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins, Shahid R. Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Stan Kroenke of the Los Angeles Rams, Robert McNair of the Houston Texans, Woody Johnson of the New York Jets and Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots through his holding company, Kraft Group LLC. (Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-owner Edward Glazer gave $250,000, and the NFL’s marketing and promotions arm, NFL Ventures LP, added $100,000.)

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones also appears to have given $1 million — in a most roundabout fashion. The Trump inauguration disclosure lists “Glenstone Limited Partnership” of Texas as a $1 million donor. State corporate records list a “Glenstone I Limited Partnership.” This entity has one director: Glenstone Corporation, which lists “Jerral W. Jones” as its president. All Glenstone entities share the same address — 1 Cowboys Way.

Other Trump inauguration donors in the million-dollar club are Russian-American businessman Alexander Shustorovich, hedge fund honcho Robert Mercer, investor Charles Schwab, Chicago Cubs owner and one-time Trump foe Marlene Ricketts, investor and Trump economic adviser Andy Beal, coal baron Christopher Cline, businessman Hushang Ansary, Shahla Ansary, hedge fund executive Paul Singer, self-storage forture heir Bradley Wayne Hughes Jr., coal executive J. Clifford Forrest, billionaire founder of GoDaddy.com Bob Parsons, investor Stephen A. Cohen, Claudine Revere, philanthropist Jeanne Sorensen Siegel, financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald Chairman Howard Lutnick and Scott Bessent, who for several years oversaw liberal megadonor George Soros’ personal fortune. The Wall Street Journal in 2000 reported that the Republican National Committee rejected a $250,000 contribution from Shustorovich, citing the businessman’s ties to state-owned Russian companies.

R.W. Habboush, an international investor who this year reportedly has pressed Trump officials to lift sanctions against Venezuela, gave $666,000.

Billionaire Texan Kelcy Warren, whose company is building the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline for which the Trump administration in February gave final approval, sent $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration committee in December. Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder who spoke at the Republican National Convention, added $100,000.

At the $1 million level, Trump’s roster of top inaugural donors include powerful and well-known companies such as tobacco company Reynolds American, airline and defense company Boeing, AT&T, the Madison Square Garden Company, online payment company Allied Wallet, international holding company Access Industries, ethanol producer Green Plains and MacNeil Automotive Products Ltd., maker of WeatherTech floor mats. Conservative nonprofit advocacy group American Action Network, which has deep financial ties to the health and pharmaceutical industries, also gave $1 million.

The next most-generous companies listed are Quicken Loans ($750,000), Wynn Resorts ($729,217), Chevron ($525,000), American Financial Group ($500,000), Intel ($500,000) JPMorgan Chase and Co. ($500,000), Citgo Petroleum ($500,000), oil comapny BP Corporation of North America ($500,000), casino developer and Ultimate Fighting Championship parent Fertitta Entertainment ($500,000), Manhattan real estate investment firm Tahl Propp ($500,000) and the MacAndrews and Forbes Group ($500,000), which owns military contractor AM General, among other companies.

And other six-figure contributors include: General Motors ($498,650), Impala Asset Management ($325,000), Coca-Cola ($300,638), Murray Energy Corporation ($300,000), real estate investment firm The Witkoff Group ($300,000), Pilot Travel Centers LLC ($300,000), Google (285,000), Ford Motor Company ($250,000), Liberty Media Corporation ($250,000), Charter Communications ($250,000), Nextera Energy ($250,000), Pepsi ($250,000), Comcast Corp. ($250,000), United Parcel Service ($250,000), IBC Bank ($250,000) healthcare company Centene ($250,000), engineering outfit Fluor Corporation ($250,000) Florida retirement mecca The Villages ($250,000), beer giant Anheuser Busch ($250,000), the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians ($250,000), power and coal plant developer White Stallion Energy LLC ($175,000), Wal-Mart ($150,000), Consol Energy Inc. ($150,000) and dental company Managed Care of North America ($135,000).

Health insurers Anthem, MetLife and The Travelers Indemnity Company each contributed $100,000. Also giving $100,000: Verizon, Qualcomm, energy giant Southern Co., oil company Valero, Anadarko Petroleum, the United States Sugar Corporation, defense contractor Northrop Grumman, food company Chiquita Brands and — play ball! — the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, the FEC disclosure indicates. Visa and accounting firm Ernst & Young each chipped in $50,000.

“The amount of funds raised for the inaugural celebration allowed the President to give the American people, those both at home and visiting Washington, a chance to experience the incredible moment in our democracy where we witness the peaceful transition of power, a cornerstone of American democracy,” inauguration committee Chairman Tom Barrack said in a statement.

Other less-than-household names nevertheless also offered up significant cash.

MILLField Global Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that advertises “representing an international array of private and public entities to the world’s most influential governments and sectors,” gave Trump’s inaugural committee $125,000.

Ryan LLC, a Dallas-based tax firm that boasts of “liberating our clients from the burden of being overtaxed,” gave more than twice that — $275,000.

Public relations firm Off the Record Strategies, led by George W. Bush White House alumnus Mark Pfeifle, sent an on-the-record $50,000 to the Trump inauguration.

Frog Fitness Inc. of Texas, which claims to have developed the “single most effective total body training device ever invented,” donated $25,000. So, too, did Apollo Education Group, which owns the for-profit University of Phoenix, payday lender Checks Into Cash Inc. the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and law and lobbying firm Mintz Levin.

Also contributing $25,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee on Jan. 6 was the Affleck-Middleton Project, a production company Oscar Award-winning actor and producer Casey Affleck formed in 2014 with John Powers Middleton.

Earlier this year, after the Center for Public Integrity reported that the Affleck-Middleton Project has contributed $5,000 to Trump’s presidential transition effort, Affleck told BuzzFeed he was “appalled.”

Affleck added that he had “no knowledge of it, was never asked, and never would have authorized it. I will get to the bottom of it. The policies of the Trump administration, and the values they represent, are antithetical to everything I believe in.”

Many of these corporate donors regularly lobby the federal government or are otherwise affected by decisions the federal government makes on a wide range of issues, from taxes and health care to immigration policy and military purchasing. Trump in November defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in part on an anti-establishment platform peppered with slogans such as “drain the swamp.”

In all, Trump’s inaugural committee raised $106.7 million — about twice what President Barack Obama’s committee raised in 2009 to mark the incoming Democrat’s first inauguration. Trump put few limitations — for one, it capped corporate contributions at $1 million — on who could give to his inaugural committee and how much.

Obama’s first inauguration committee strictly limited money from lobbyist and corporate sources and prohibited donations greater than $50,000. By his second inauguration, Obama had loosened some restrictions, allowing corporate interests to play a larger role.

President George W. Bush capped the amount of money donors could give to his two inaugurations at $100,000 in 2001 and $250,000 in 2005.

By federal law, presidential inauguration committees aren’t required to file detailed financial disclosures with the FEC until 90 days of an inauguration, meaning Trump’s committee wasn’t required to disclose its bankrollers until now.

When Trump’s committee did, officials hand delivered the document to the FEC’s office in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

The FEC posted the 508-page document Wednesday morning — a scanned paper document, as opposed to the easily searchable, electronic financial disclosures commonly submitted by most federal candidates, including Trump’s own presidential committee.

A few of the big-dollar donors listed were obscure limited liability companies, the leaders of which weren’t easily deciphered.

One such Trump inauguration donor, HFNWA LLC of Chattanooga, Tennessee, gave $1 million. The Center for Public Integrity previously reported that HFNWA LLC gave Democratic super PAC Senate Majority PAC $1 million in 2014. HFNWA LLC has addresses in Arkansas and Washington, D.C., and is managed, according to Arkansas Secretary of State records, by Franklin L. Haney, a Democratic political patron and real estate mogul.

“LMC IP” also gave Trump’s transition $1 million. Its listed address in Bethesda, Maryland, is the same as the address for Lockheed Martin, the massive defense contractor.

An California-based entity called the “Papa Doug Trust” likewise gave $1 million. This trust, the San Diego Reader reported in 2012, is tied to Douglas F. Manchester, a hotel developer and former publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Trump’s inauguration committee filing did not include information on how it spent the money it raised. Nor did it immediately indicate, as it promised it would, the names of charities to which it would give surplus money.

Federal law also requires inaugural donors who lobby the federal government to file separate disclosures in January — if they made inaugural donations during 2016.

Some indeed did. And a Center for Public Integrity’s review of these documents indicated that Pfizer Inc. and Dow Chemical Co. were among the corporate early birds, each making $1 million contributions to Trump’s inaugural committee in December 2016.

According to inauguration donor packages previously obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, donors in the “$1,000,000+” tier were to receive four tickets to a “leadership luncheon” billed as “an exclusive event with select Cabinet appointees and House and Senate leadership to honor our most generous inaugural supporters.”

Donors in the $500,000 tiers also got access to a dinner with Pence and his wife, a candlelight dinner with Trump and Pence, and other festivities. Donors in lower tiers received more limited ticket packages to inaugural events.

Microsoft Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp., Amgen Inc. and Altria Client Services LLC reported giving $500,000 each, a contribution that would have earned tickets to a similar list of events top-tier donors received.

According to Microsoft’s report, half its contribution was in cash and half in “in-kind contribution, products and services.”

Exxon Mobil Corp. reported making its contribution on Dec. 19, the week after Trump announced he would nominate Rex Tillerson, the company’s chairman and CEO, as secretary of state. The U.S. Senate confirmed Tillerson this year.

Six companies reported $100,000 contributions: Verizon Communications Inc., Valero Energy Corp., MetLife Group Inc., Clean Energy Fuels Corp. and Aetna Inc.

Aflac, Inc. reported giving $50,000 and Monsanto Co., Florida East Coast Industries, CVS Health and Brown Rudnick LLP reported giving $25,000.

Carrie Levine, Chris Zubak-Skees and Rachel Wilson contributed to this report

— source publicintegrity.org by Dave Levinthal

Fox News Owns Bill O’Reilly’s Ugly Legacy

Fox News doesn’t—or didn’t—have a Bill O’Reilly problem. It has a Fox News problem.

For years, it was clear that O’Reilly was a lying lout who exploited his position, power, and profits-generating status at the network to harass women, bully critics, and hurl a variety of false accusations. Yet Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes (until last July, when he was forced out as CEO of the network as a result of his own sexual harassment conduct) allowed O’Reilly to run wild and free. As the king of the hill at Fox News, O’Reilly survived numerous scandals that would have knocked out hosts at other networks. The reason was obvious: With his top-rated show, he brought piles of cash into the network. His personal behavior at the workplace didn’t matter. Nor did his penchant for public self-aggrandizing prevarication. Nor did his cavalier use of violent rhetoric, including, on at least one occasion, a death threat of sorts. (More on that later.)

O’Reilly’s ugly private conduct first drew public attention in 2004, when the Fox News star host was accused of harassment—and bizarre behavior—in a lawsuit filed by Andrea Mackris, an associate producer who worked with him at the network. Her case appeared to be based on secret recordings she had made of conversations with O’Reilly, and her filing was full of direct quotes from him. He supposedly spoke to her about vibrators, masturbation, and his penis, trying to engage her in phone sex, and brought himself to climax during these calls. Mackris’ initial legal complaint included a long passage in which O’Reilly fantasized aloud about taking her to the Caribbean, where he would “quickly” get two glasses of wine into her and then steer her into a shower and rub her “pussy” with “the falafel thing.” (He meant a loofah.)

The Mackris suit settled within two weeks, under confidential terms, with Mackris reportedly being paid $9 million. And thus was the pattern established. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that in the subsequent years, O’Reilly “faced a series of allegations of sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior” and that four other women had received payouts from either him or Fox News. (Reportedly, the Justice Department has been investigating Fox News for violating securities law in relation to these payments.) O’Reilly also was accused of domestic abuse in 2014 during a custody battle.

Throughout all of this, Fox News was O’Reilly’s enabler. Murdoch, Ailes, and others also protected O’Reilly when he lied and threatened anyone who questioned his primacy (or integrity). And I have a personal stake in this part of the O’Reilly saga, because once I was the target of his violent rhetoric.

Two years ago, Daniel Schulman and I reported that O’Reilly had repeatedly mischaracterized his limited wartime reporting experience. Over the years, he had said he had witnessed combat while serving as a war correspondent for CBS News during the 1982 Falklands war between Argentina and the United Kingdom. He had also claimed that in this “war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands,” his cameraman had been injured and O’Reilly had saved the man. None of this was true. Numerous colleagues of O’Reilly noted that no American reporters reached the Falkland Islands during the fighting and that the US correspondents covered the war from Buenos Aries, about 1,200 miles away. The cameraman said no such incident had happened. O’Reilly, like other American journalists there, had never been in the war zone.

O’Reilly also had bragged in the past that while in Buenos Aires, he had covered a riot at the war’s end, which he characterized as a combat situation, with troops gunning down and slaughtering demonstrators. News reports from the time and eyewitness accounts noted there had been no killing. And O’Reilly’s own reports from the time contradicted his boastful account. There was no massacre. Schulman and I also reported that O’Reilly had exaggerated his account of an assignment covering the civil war in El Salvador in the early 1980s.

Our story was followed by other media reports chronicling instances when O’Reilly had fibbed about his derring-do. The Guardian noted that six of O’Reilly’s colleagues from Inside Edition disputed his account of having been attacked by protesters while he reported on the Los Angeles riots in 1992. The Washington Post questioned a passage in an O’Reilly book in which he asserted he had “seen” Irish terrorists “kill and maim their fellow citizens in Belfast with bombs.” O’Reilly’s response: He saw photos of bombings. Media Matters, a liberal advocacy group, caught O’Reilly in a similar lie. He had claimed he had seen nuns gunned down in El Salvador. But nope—just photos. And CNN blew apart another boastful O’Reilly story: He had been present when a mysterious witness in the John Kennedy assassination case committed suicide.

This was a boatload of credibility-destroying stories. Fox News, though, stood by their man. And it did so as he attempted to lie and bully his way through this series of imbroglios—with me as his No. 1 target. O’Reilly refused to acknowledge the contradictions between his tall (and false) tales and reality. Instead, he went ballistic with invective. He called me a “liar,” “dumb,” a “left-wing assassin,” and a “despicable guttersnipe.” He denounced Mother Jones as “the bottom rung of journalism in America.” And he got violent and said that I deserve “to be in the kill zone.”

It was no shocker that Fox News let O’Reilly get away with this fusillade. But it was a bit unsettling that the fair-and-balanced network did not compel O’Reilly to apologize for and retract the “kill zone” remark. After all, who knows how an unhinged O’Reilly fan might take such a comment. O’Reilly had spent years referring to Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas physician who provided abortions, as “Tiller the Baby Killer.” In 2009, Tiller was shot dead while serving as an usher in his church by an anti-abortion extremist.

Fox News just didn’t care that O’Reilly was engaging in reckless rhetoric or that he had been caught in multiple lies. There was no internal investigation. (At NBC News, Brian Williams was investigated and lost his anchor’s chair for having told false war stories.) There was no punishment. Journalistic principles, the rules of polite society—they didn’t apply. You don’t kill the cash cow. And while O’Reilly faced criticism for being a serial fabricator, his ratings improved. His audience rallied around him, as he claimed he was under unfair assault by the liberal media for having the guts to tell the truth. O’Reilly used all these stories as proof he was a courageous no-spin journalist, and folks within his echo chamber lapped it up. (A few Fox News journalists privately congratulated me on our stories, often with such comments as, “If you only knew.” The brass saw it differently.)

Why would Fox News intervene? Now even more O’Reilly bucks were pouring in. Yet with Ailes’ recent downfall and more revelations of O’Reilly’s misconduct, the network finally reached the conclusion that their pugnacious host had to be de-Factored. But keep this in mind: None of the recent yucky news about O’Reilly was a secret to the Murdochs and other execs. Since at least 2004, they had covered up for and defended their No. 1 bloviator. The issue at this time is not one man’s wrongdoing. It reaches beyond a single lewd and pompous egotist. The entire Fox News regime—which seeks to boost corporate profits by appealing to an audience supposedly in favor of conservative family values—remains tainted.

O’Reilly may be gone. But that taint remains. And the guttersnipes who dared to report on O’Reilly’s misdeeds and mis-facts know that O’Reilly was for too long the rule, not the exception, at Fox News.

— source motherjones.com by David Corn

Is Soda Bad for Your Brain?

Americans love sugar. Together we consumed nearly 11 million metric tons of it in 2016, according to the US Department of Agriculture, much of it in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages like sports drinks and soda.

Now, new research suggests that excess sugar—especially the fructose in sugary drinks—might damage your brain. Researchers using data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) found that people who drink sugary beverages frequently are more likely to have poorer memory, smaller overall brain volume, and a significantly smaller hippocampus—an area of the brain important for learning and memory. The FHS is the nation’s longest running epidemiological study, begun in 1948, supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and run by BU since 1971.

But before you chuck your sweet tea and reach for a diet soda, there’s more: a follow-up study found that people who drank diet soda daily were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia when compared to those who did not.

Researchers are quick to point out that these findings, which appear separately in the journals Alzheimer’s & Dementia and Stroke, demonstrate correlation but not cause and effect. While researchers caution against overconsuming either diet soda or sugary drinks, more research is needed to determine how—or if—these drinks actually damage the brain, and how much damage may be caused by underlying vascular disease or diabetes.

“These studies are not the be-all and end-all, but it’s strong data and a very strong suggestion,” says Sudha Seshadri, a School of Medicine professor of neurology and a faculty member at BU’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, senior author on both papers. “It looks like there is not very much of an upside to having sugary drinks, and substituting the sugar with artificial sweeteners doesn’t seem to help.”

“Maybe good old-fashioned water is something we need to get used to,” she adds.

Matthew Pase, a fellow in the MED neurology department and an FHS investigator, who is lead author on both papers, says that excess sugar has long been associated with cardiovascular and metabolic diseases like obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, but little is known about its long-term effects on the human brain. He chose to study sugary drinks as a way of examining overall sugar consumption. “It’s difficult to measure overall sugar intake in the diet,” he says, “so we used sugary beverages as a proxy.”

For the first study, published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia on March 5, 2017, researchers examined data, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and cognitive testing results, from about 4,000 people enrolled in the FHS Offspring and Third-Generation cohorts. (These are the children and grandchildren of the original volunteers enrolled in 1948.) The researchers looked at people who consumed more than two sugary drinks a day of any type—soda, fruit juice, and other soft drinks—or more than three per week of soda alone. Among that high-intake group, they found multiple signs of accelerated brain aging, including smaller overall brain volume, poorer episodic memory, and a shrunken hippocampus, all risk factors for early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers also found that higher intake of diet soda—at least one per day—was associated with smaller brain volume.

In the second study, published in Stroke on April 20, 2017, the researchers, using data only from the older Offspring cohort, looked specifically at whether participants had suffered a stroke or been diagnosed with dementia because of Alzheimer’s disease. After measuring volunteers’ beverage intake at three points over 7 years, the researchers then monitored the volunteers for 10 years, looking for evidence of stroke in 2,888 people over age 45, and dementia in 1,484 participants over age 60. They found, surprisingly, no correlation between sugary beverage intake and stroke or dementia. However, they found that people who drank at least one diet soda per day were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia.

Although the researchers took age, smoking, diet quality, and other factors into account, they could not completely control for preexisting conditions like diabetes, which may have developed over the course of the study and is a known risk factor for dementia. Diabetics, as a group, drink more diet soda on average, as a way to limit their sugar consumption, and some of the correlation between diet soda intake and dementia may be due to diabetes, as well as other vascular risk factors. However, such preexisting conditions cannot wholly explain the new findings.

“It was somewhat surprising that diet soda consumption led to these outcomes,” says Pase, noting that while prior studies have linked diet soda intake to stroke risk, the link with dementia was not previously known. He adds that the studies did not differentiate between types of artificial sweeteners and did not account for other possible sources of artificial sweeteners. He says that scientists have put forth various hypotheses about how artificial sweeteners may cause harm, from transforming gut bacteria to altering the brain’s perception of sweet, but “we need more work to figure out the underlying mechanisms.”

— source bu.edu by Barbara Moran