Monthly Archives: January 2017

donald trump emoluments clause

Donald Trump and the Foreign Emoluments Clause

Trump and the Emoluments Clause 

President Donald Trump almost certainly violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution, from the moment he took the Oath of Office.  It has already become a rallying cry for those who want to see Trump impeached – their arguments are sound and strong.  But many might be asking: What is the Emoluments Clause and how does it apply to Donald Trump?  Here’s a quick primer.

What is the Foreign Emoluments Clause?

The Foreign Emoluments Clause states that “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”  That means no federal officeholder can accept a present, emolument, office, or title from an agent of a foreign government (without Congress’s consent).  Most of those are easy to understand: A present is obvious, as is an office or title – a senator, for instance, cannot also be the Interior Minister for France; similarly, s/he cannot be knighted by Queen of England – but an emolument is rather ambiguous.

So what is an emolument?

 An emolument, per the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a salary, fee, or profit from employment or office.”  Money received from one’s official position or financial stake in a company is thus an emolument.  Note that this definition is quite broad – it covers fair market value transactions, not just gifts or bestowments greater than the fair price for a good or service.  Any profit from a position is an emolument.

How does this apply to Donald Trump?

Donald Trump’s sprawling, global businesses frequently interact with agents of foreign governments.  Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, a massive financial entity largely controlled by the Chinese government, rents space in Trump Tower New York.  The Trump Organization also leases space to Abu Dhabi’s government tourism agency.  Trump’s most recent project, Trump Hotel DC, has already drawn international visitors as diplomats and other foreign agents book rooms at the president’s hotel in hopes of currying his favor.  All of these examples violate the Emoluments Clause.  Corporations owned by foreign governments fall under the Emoluments Clause, as do foreign government agencies and diplomats spending foreign government money.  Even if they do not pay above the fair market rate for their leases or rooms, the definition of “emolument” covers the transaction and, as the money originates from a foreign government and Trump, as a financial stakeholder in the Trump Organization, ultimately receives part of it.  That stands in direct contradiction to the letter and spirit of the Emoluments Clause.

Wait, I thought Trump resolved his conflicts of interest before taking office?

No.  He announced his resignation from the boards of many of the Trump Organization’s companies.  That, however, does nothing to alleviate Foreign Emoluments Clause concerns.  So long as he continues to have a financial stake in the businesses – and he still does – and thus can benefit from foreign deals, he will violate the Constitution.  Furthermore, while Trump said he would donate any profits (how will define “profit”?)  from his DC hotel to the US Treasury, that mitigates no Emoluments Clause concerns because he will still receive money that originated from foreign governments.  The Clause offers no exception for charitable emolument uses.

Does the Emoluments Clause even pertain to the President?

 Almost certainly.  In Article 2, which pertains to the executive branch, the presidency is referred to as an office (which aligns with Emoluments Clause wording of “office…under [the United States].”

Okay, but does the Emoluments Clause actually matter?

Yes, very much so.  The Emoluments Clause arose from fear of corruption or manipulation of US politics by foreign actors.  Payments of any form endow one to the giver.  Consider, too, Donald Trump’s swooning over any who complement him – now add money to the mix and imagine his reaction.  In a Republic of any age, the potentially deleterious influence of foreign actors (or situations in which a president might be motivated to place himself above the country) must be avoided by following the guidelines the Founders laid.

And to those Founders, foreign emoluments presented a major concern.  In 1810, just a couple decades after the Constitution’s signing, Congress approved an amendment to the Constitution that would have stripped the citizenship from anyone who received, without Congress’s consent, a foreign emolument.  The amendment fell one state short of ratification, largely because some found it redundant due to the Constitution’s existing Emoluments Clause.  Clearly, the Founders did not take such issues lightly.  We shouldn’t, either.

So what recourse do we have?

 As citizens, very little.  We don’t have standing to sue Trump for the Foreign Emoluments Clause violation.  DC hotels that compete with Trump’s might have standing, but it would be tenuous at best.  Congress could pass a waiver, though doing so would be quite dangerous: We should not allow the president to receive emoluments that could cause him to ignore the country’s best interests.  Trump could fully divest from his business or place it in a truly blind trust, but he has shown no interest in doing either.

Therefore, the best recourse is to urge impeachment.   Trump continues to violate an integral part of the Constitution and his doing so risks innumerable conflicts of interest that, at worst, would pit the interests of the Head of State and Government against those of the nation he leads.  Voters, and Congress, should take this infringement seriously and act accordingly to remedy this flagrant constitutional wrong.

vichy republicans

Expect Nothing from Vichy Republicans

Vichy Republicans: Spineless

Rex Tillerson, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, received the Russia Federation’s highest award possible for a foreign national. He opposed, and continues to oppose, sanctions on the belligerent and repressive state. For some reason, he refuses to call Vladimir Putin — who assisted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo’s massacre and destruction — a war criminal. And yet, thanks to Vichy Republicans, he will soon be America’s top diplomat.

At a time when the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA all agree that Putin ordered Russian operatives to aide Trump’s election through email hacks, leaks to Julian Assange, and the dissemination of fake news (conclusions with which the president disagrees, decrying the leaks as akin — I kid you not — to Nazi Germany), Putin’s puppet will sit in the Oval Office and his buddy will be a few blocks over in Foggy Bottom.

Senators from both sides of the aisle recognize Russia’s threat and they decry Putin’s attempts to sway our election and undermine faith in democratic institutions across the globe. They recognize that Putin wants a neo-imperial Russian Empire that reclaims lands lost in Europe and the Caucasus. The legislators know that through leaks portrayed as sinister and fake news that encourages ignorance while delegitimizing elected governments help elect far-right authoritarian administrations amenable and not threatening to Putin’s increasingly dictatorial state.

Vichy Republicans Won’t Stand Up to Trump

And yet, despite all that, (Vichy) Republican senators will not oppose Tillerson’s Secretary of State nomination. The likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham — two Russia hawks — expressed fear about Tillerson’s Russia connections and his refusal to support actions that might challenge new Russian aggression, but they will vote for him. McCain is obviously no longer a Maverick; Graham seems hell-bent on losing the respect some of bestowed upon him for his outspoken criticism of Donald Trump. Once they fold here, on one of their dearest issues, why should we believe they and their likes will oppose Trump on any grounds?

It’s not just McCain and Graham. At least 51 Republicans, knowing quite well the extent of Russian influence on our election, will vote for Putin’s friend, adding to the Trump administration’s already worrisome Russophilia. This only continues the shameful Vichy Republican streak of refusing to steadfastly condemn or stand up to Donald Trump since the fateful day he came down Trump Tower’s escalator to begin a campaign of ignorance and division.

Vichy Republicans will not stand up to Trump. They will offer no opposition even when they realize it is warranted and necessary. These unprincipled lawmakers — by no means statesmen and women — fear only his wrath and resultant electoral retribution. Sadly, they are not motivated by the country’s interests, just their own. Do not expect responsible acting — do expect to hold them responsible in 2018, 2020, and 2024.

women's march

Hope in the Time of Trump

The Women’s March is Inspiring

George Orwell, who died 67 years ago on the day of this writing, famously railed against the use of clichés in writing, and for good reason. But clichés exist for a reason and sometimes utilizing them, especially when nature so perfectly provides one, best captures one’s sentiments. Yesterday, the day of Donald J. Trump’s inauguration as America’s 45th president, dawned with gloom — grey clouds promised to unleash the Founders’ tears and mist and fog led me to peer into the unknown. The weather perfectly summarized the day: Misery.

A day later 2.5 million protesters taking part in the global women’s march dominated the streets in 674 locations from the nation’s capital to Antarctica, where women marched among penguins, in the first act of massive resistance to the new administration. Fittingly, Chicago’s weather forewent its typical wintery wretchedness and opted instead for the week’s first day of a sun, which actually provided warmth usually unknown to January’s depths. With the protesters, a beautiful sight of solidarity and political activism, the sun feels warranted. Though there are dark days ahead — the bleak unknown promises challenges and threats to life, liberty, and the pursuit of property — with the renewed engagement of millions (many of whom have yet to be political active), I have faith in The Resistance.

Hundreds of thousands of women resist in Washington, DC.

The buoyant energy lifting millions of spirits on this day must not be lost. In the weeks and months ahead, discouragement will be rampant, losses likely abundant, and hope in short supply. We must look back to January 21 and realize the power of the masses, knowing that “We, the People” — the very entity from whom Trump’s claims his authority arises — have a nearly 3 million person advantage (even more when taking into account those who voted third party). Millions may have voted for Trump, but still dislike him and don’t find him qualified to be president. Together, we are the majority of the country and despite what Trump says to the contrary, regardless of the popular support he claims to have and represent, our solidarity and unity against un-American and unconstitutional proposals is a more powerful force.

Organizers in Chicago expected 20,000 participants. Around 250,000 showed up.

If we stay motivated and active — if the January 21 marches are a harbinger of things to come — Democrats could have their own Tea Party moment. The ideology will, of course, be quite different, but the principles the same: Incessant and overwhelming activism that reinvigorates the party and pushes, successfully, desired policy outcomes. Let’s turn 2.5 million marches into 2.5 million weekly (or daily) phone calls to representatives and senators across the country, urging investigations into Trump’s alleged Russia connections, his conflicts of interest, and impeachment for Emoluments Clause violations. Imagine thousands of these protesters turning up at town hall and district events, demanding answers from lawmakers. Dream of 2018 when 2.5 million volunteers defend the Democrats’ Senate seats, take Nevada and Arizona, and make inroads across state legislatures and governorships. And then herald 2020, when this activism sweeps Trump out of the Oval Office.

Let this be the beginning. Carry this energy forward, ceaselessly, as best we can. The going will not be easy and demoralization will tempt many. But politics is not a simple game that can be won without putting up one hell of a fight. We’ve shown that we will resist Trump. Let’s make sure our voices continue to be heard, today and in the coming years. March on!

trump toyota

Trump’s Toyota Tax Will Cost Americans $25.6 Billion a Year

Trump’s War on Toyota Will Cost Americans $25.6 Billion a Year

President-Elect Donald Trump has routinely attacked producers who, for sake of economic efficiency, move production out of America and then sell Americans affordable goods.  His heated rhetoric, seemingly premised on failed mercantile ideology, has yielded Twitter rants and calls for a 35 percent tariff on imported goods.  While his calls have earned the accolades of his supporters, neither Trump (nor those who voted for him) seem to realize that there are real costs to imposing tariffs.

Most recently, Trump’s Twitter ire zeroed in on Toyota, one of the largest car manufacturers in the world.  In response to Toyota looking to move production out of America, Trump threatened a tax.  However, considering that Americans buy more than 2 million Toyota cars a year, his proposal would end up costing the very people he vows to serve more than $25 billion a year.

A 35 percent tax on Toyota vehicles would result in prices rising at least that amount.  The below tables shows the dire economic ramifications of Trump’s proposed tariff (prices found from AutoGuide and are multiplied by 1.35 to show the tariff’s effects.  The total cost to Americans is simply found by multiplying the Trump consumer tax by the number of each vehicle Americans buy a year).

ModelPriceTrump Price IncreaseTrump Would Make You Pay….Total Cost to America Per Year
Yaris $17,670.00 $6,184.50 $23,854.50 $103,769,725.50
Corolla $23,125.00 $8,093.75 $31,218.75 $2,940,718,375.00
Prius $30,000.00 $10,500.00 $40,500.00 $1,940,179,500.00
Camry $31,370.00 $10,979.50 $42,349.50 $4,714,103,222.50
Tacoma $38,180.00 $13,363.00 $51,543.00 $2,399,487,006.00
RAV4 $32,910.00 $11,518.50 $44,428.50 $3,633,073,122.00
Sienna $46,410.00 $16,243.50 $62,653.50 $2,233,432,519.50
Tundra $49,580.00 $17,353.00 $66,933.00 $2,062,924,640.00
Highlander $50,485.00 $17,669.75 $68,154.75 $2,807,988,321.25
Avalon $40,450.00 $14,157.50 $54,607.50 $850,341,922.50
4Runner $44,360.00 $15,526.00 $59,886.00 $1,506,549,884.00
Sequoia $65,080.00 $22,778.00 $87,858.00 $286,615,574.00
Mirai $57,500.00 $20,125.00 $77,625.00 $1,449,000.00
Land Cruiser $83,825.00 $29,338.75 $113,163.75 $78,833,221.25
Total $25,559,466,033.50

Let’s be absolutely clear: Trump proposes a hefty tax on consumers.  Buyers are left bearing the brunt of the tariff – and they get nothing in return.  Manufacturing will not return to the states because of the computer.  Toyota is just the start: Real income will decrease as consumers see more and more of it eaten away by Trump’s de facto taxes.  We’ll see fewer jobs and pricier goods, the promised result of Trumponomics.  Can we really afford to let Trump distort and destroy the free market?

An Electoral College Proposal

An Electoral College Proposal

The Electoral College gives undue weight to small states – the method of apportioning Electors, senators plus House members, results in state Electoral vote shares unequal to their population percentage share.  For instance, California is 12% of the nation but only 10% of the Electoral College; the relationship is flipped for small states as their Electoral College vote share exceeds the percent of the country that lives within their boundaries.

Furthermore, and more importantly, the winner-take-all (WTA) Electoral Vote allocation leads to outcome quite far removed from popular vote realities.  Take 2000: A margin of a few hundred votes (out of nearly 5,000,000 cast) resulted in George W. Bush receiving 25 Electoral Votes and Al Gore zero.  The WTA systems prevents elections from being thrown to the House of Representatives – a noble goal – but in doing so, fails to reflect vote choices by denying Electoral College representation to large factions.

Proportional representation within each state would ensure that Electoral outcomes reflect state wishes.  Federalism would still thrive because the election is not determined by the national popular vote.  Large states would not bully small states as margins would not be 55-0 as they are now in California.  Candidates would campaign across the country to drive out turnout even in states they will lose in order to boost Electors at the margins.  This would create a truly national campaign where no people are forgotten.

Here is my proposal: 1,000 Electors divided between the states in accordance to their population percentage, found by simply multiplying a given state’s population share by 1,000 and rounding to the nearest whole number.  Each state’s Electors are then proportionally allocated to all candidates receiving at least 15 percent of the vote in the state (thus preventing extremist parties from denying a candidate an overall majority, plunging the election into the House of Representatives).  Electoral votes would be divided based on vote share of viable candidates – in other words, should two third parties receive 5 percent of the vote each, viable candidates would earn Electoral Votes based on their share of 90 percent of the vote (100 percent lessed nonviable votes).  Rounding would be to the nearest whole number and vote distribution would match, as closely as possible, a 1:1 ratio.  In the case that conventional rounding results in a distribution greater than the number of Electoral Votes a given state has (ie, candidate A would have 12.8 Electors and candidate B 6.9), rounding up priority will be given to the state victor with the lowest-placing viable candidate rounding down.  Similarly, if the sum of the rounded numbers is lower than the state’s Electoral Votes, then the state’s victor gets the Elector.

Under this plan, the Electoral College distribution would look like this:

electoral college

And the 2016 results like this:

electoral college 2016

Such a setup would create truly national elections with candidates traveling the country to persuade and mobilize voters in all states in order to win Electors at the margin.  Federalism would remain intact while still ensuring that results match the national popular vote.  Close state results would reward both candidate rather than unnecessarily punishing a candidate who loses by hundreds or thousands out of millions.  It creates a fair system where, for the most important election in the country, “one person, one vote” defines the voting system.

trump ford

Trump and Ford

On January 3, Ford announced plans to scrap its proposed $1.6 billion factory investment in Mexico, opting instead to invest $700 million in Michigan.  They cited a positive manufacturing environment, made possible, in part, by President-Elect Donald Trump’s policies.  Expectedly, Trump immediately took credit for Ford’s about-face.  His supporters echoed the same sentiment.

But that, of course, misses the point.  Trump is not the reason for Ford’s move.

Ford had long planned to shift production of its fuel efficient Focus to Mexico.  However, given the rising economy under President Barack Obama and near-$2 gasoline, Americans have lost interest in small, fuel efficient cars, opting instead (again) for gas-guzzlers.  Focus sales fell 17.1 percent from January to October 2016.  In light of tumbling Focus sales, Ford had little reason to pour money into a factory producing undesired cars.

Furthermore, Ford foresees continued low gas prices because Trump and congressional Republicans have no regard for the environment.  Never mind the climate and the forthcoming dangers of a warming planet – the Trump administration will surely be a boon for Big Oil (hence a stock market rally for oil and gas producers).

Trump will also likely slash regulations, even though doing so may harm the very people who somehow voted him into office.  Lower regulations will encourage manufacturers to stay in the country, but could very well have negative societal consequences (some regulations are necessary for a stable, thriving economy).

By praising Trump, Ford hopes that it will receive regulatory favors going forward.  Trump plays the favor game: Give him credit for good news and he will quickly bend over backwards for you (see: Vladimir Putin and SoftBank).  The ease with which Trump can be manipulated is frightening.  No longer will Trump attack Ford when he holds echo-chamber rallies; now, he’ll praise Ford and surely talk about the need to give Ford whatsoever they desire because they remained in America.  There’s little doubt Trump will dole out special favors because Ford credited him.

Lastly, there is absolutely no reason any American consumer should favor tariffs.  A 35 percent tariff on imported goods, as Trump wants, would raise goods at least that amount.  Suddenly, a $25,000 car would cost almost $34,000.  How will that benefit you?  No jobs will come back because we have computers (automation, not trade, is why manufacturing employment is falling).  In a time of stagnant wages – a problem for which Trump has no solution – can you really afford to pay at least 35 percent more for necessary goods?  Of course not.  If you care about your pocketbook, you must resist Trump’s desires to slap a tariff on imported goods.

All in all, Trump loves to take credit for economic decisions made without regard to him.  It makes him feel big and powerful.  Don’t fall for his lies – see through them.  Resist lazy belief and instead stand for economic policies that will actually benefit you (ie, do not support inefficient Trumponomics).

drain the swamp

Drain the Swamp? Trump’s Filling It

So much for “Drain the Swamp.”

With a month to go in his shockingly victorious campaign, Donald Trump unveiled a new slogan: Drain the Swamp.  The slogan supposedly differentiated him from Hillary Clinton, whose alleged corruption for months dominated headlines and caused millions of Americans to inherently distrust the Democratic candidate.  “Drain the Swamp” also pointed to Trump’s repeated campaign promise of standing up to “career politicians” and returning Washington to the people.  But like many of his other promises, this one is quickly being thrown to the wayside.  Trump is doing all he can to fill the swamp with more monsters.

First of all, the supposed anti-establishment, populist candidate announced that his chief-of-staff would be Republican National Committee chair and spineless, acquiescent “leader” Reince Priebus.  All authoritarian strongmen reward those who bow to their wishes and pose no threat to power accumulation.  Priebus perfectly fit the bill and the Kenosha political operative who commissioned a 2012 autopsy that concluded Republicans needed to better appeal to Latinos by moderating their rhetoric will head the White House staff.

Not content with solely appointing the establishment’s figurehead to his administration, Trump named Steve Bannon, former Breitbart executive and known anti-Semite, racist, and sexist, as a senior adviser.  Long before becoming Trump’s campaign CEO, Bannon turned Breitbart into a pro-Trump outlet that worked closely with his Government Accountability Institute (which published the dubious book “Clinton Cash”) to undermine both Republican obstacles in the primary and Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.  The site has no plans to abandon its 24/7, wall-to-wall pro-Trump coverage.  But now that its white nationalist former executive is steps from the Oval Office, Breitbart can – and certainly will – use proximity and connections to the president to become a de facto government propaganda outlet.  Kurt Bardella, a former Breitbart employee who left the site after questioning its coverage of the Trump campaign, worries that “it will be as close as we are ever to have…to a state-run media enterprise.”

Trump campaigned extensively on the egregiously incorrect statement that he self-funded his campaign.  Doing so, he argued, would help him #DrainTheSwamp because he would have no allegiance to – and thus no reason to favor – donors.  Not the case.  Already, Trump’s donors are “shaping the incoming administration.”  Rebekah Mercer, daughter of billionaire financier Robert Mercer (a prominent Trump donor who has a major stake in Breitbart) is helping shape the presidential transition.  Peter Thiel, mega-Trump donor and Silicon Valley billionaire who funded a court case that bankrupted Gawker, sits on Trump’s executive transition committee.  Other lobbyists (against whom Trump repeatedly railed while on the campaign trail) and fundraisers have been charged with hiring and planning executive agency transition.  It’s hard to drain the swamp when lobbyists and donors guide the president’s assumption of power.

Throughout the campaign, questions lingered about what would happen to Trump’s many businesses if he won.  Newsweek aptly pointed out that there are many potential conflicts of interest with potentially calamitous results for Trump because of his businesses’ foreign ties.  It seems as if Trump’s children will be running the private businesses.  However, reports have emerged that Trump team has requested top-level security clearance for his children, the very ones who will be charged with running the companies, meaning they would be considered unpaid national security advisers (a way of skirting nepotism rules).  That means the individuals running multi-billion dollar businesses with ties to foreign banks and governments will have access to top-secret information.  Such ability for corruption dwarfs by magnitudes the unproven accusations of improper behavior Trump and his surrogates hurled at the Clintons for alleged pay-to-play schemes at their Foundation during Hillary’s time at the Department of State.

Donald Trump has clearly shown no interesting in actually draining the swamp.  His campaign promise, unsurprisingly, has turned out to be empty rhetoric whose political expediency helped elect him president but whose principles will not define his administration.  From his chief-of-staff and senior adviser appointments to the empowerment of donors and lobbyists and his desire to give top-secret information to those who will run his businesses, Trump will fill the swamp with actors and beliefs against which he ran his campaign. Drain the swamp is out; fill the swamp is in.