A Tale of Trump’s Taxes

Today in Trump News, the NY Times somehow got its hands on a copy of part of Trump’s tax returns from 1995 that show some, um, losses.

Donald J. Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns, a tax deduction so substantial it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years, records obtained by The New York Times show.

The 1995 tax records, never before disclosed, reveal the extraordinary tax benefits that Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, derived from the financial wreckage he left behind in the early 1990s through mismanagement of three Atlantic City casinos, his ill-fated foray into the airline business and his ill-timed purchase of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.

Tax experts hired by The Times to analyze Mr. Trump’s 1995 records said that tax rules especially advantageous to wealthy filers would have allowed Mr. Trump to use his $916 million loss to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income over an 18-year period.

Most people, I suspect, would consider losing nearly a billion dollars in one year an indication that one is something of a screw-up. But not Trump and the Trumpettes.

Trump and his surrogates, meanwhile, tried Sunday to turn the story into an asset, saying that reports he avoided paying taxes for years prove his business acumen and deep knowledge of the tax system.

“He’s a genius at how to take advantage of legal remedies that can help your company survive and grow,” former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said on ABC’s This Week.  “I want a man who’s a genius at figuring out how to take this country, that’s moving in the wrong direction.”

Christie told Fox News Sunday that it was a “very, very good story” for Trump, and noted that “he’s already promised in his tax plan to change many of these special interest loopholes and get rid of them, so you don’t have this kind of situation.”

Yes, losing a billion dollars is genius. What else can one say? Meanwhile, the Washington Post has a story up about Trump having another public meltdown yesterday after this news broke. A couple of highlights:

He told the crowd to get a group of friends together on Election Day, vote and then go to “certain areas” and “watch” the voters there. “I hear too many bad stories, and we can’t lose an election because of you know what I’m talking about,” Trump said. “So, go and vote and then go check out areas because a lot of bad things happen, and we don’t want to lose for that reason.” …

… “Hillary Clinton’s only loyalty is to her financial contributors and to herself,” Trump said. “I don’t even think she’s loyal to Bill, if you want to know the truth.”

The crowd gasped and many shouted: “Ohhhhh!”

Trump shrugged.

“And really, folks,” Trump continued, “really, why should she be? Right? Why should she be?”

Back to the Times — publishing a tax return without authorization to do so is against the law, and the Times may end up paying a penalty for it. But I’m sure the Times editors knew this and decided the benefits outweighed the costs. That was gutsy of them. Credit where credit is due.

Debate Live Blog

It’s almost time. I’ve got Bloomberg TV fired up; they promise to do fact checking while the debate goes on.

Lester Holt is on. OK, here’s the candidates.

Achieving Prosperity: Jobs. Let’s go.

Hillary has a granddaughter! Who knew?

So far, so good for Hill. Raise minimum wage, fairer economy, do more to help those struggling to balance family and work. Paid family leave. Debt free college. Wealthy pay fair share; close corporate loopholes.

Trump: Jobs fleeing country, going to Mexico, China, and Trump is sending them. No, he didn’t say that. Thousands of jobs are leaving, etc., says he agrees with Hillary on child care. I think reasonable Trump is trying to show up  here.

Cutting taxes on business to expand business? That hasn’t worked in the states.

Hillary — Donald is proposing trickle down economics. He started his business with 14 million dollars from his father. The more you help wealthy people the better things are? I don’t believe that.

Invest in the middle class! She’s been reading Bernie’s speeches.

Trump says his father gave him only a little money.

Trump’s a one-note speaker — foreign countries stealing jobs.

He’s talking about tariffs. Tax goods coming in.

Oh, she’s taking it to him. He rooted for the housing crisis. He admits it. “That’s called business, by the way.”

Independent experts say that Trump’s plans would cost jobs and start another recession, she says. My plan would grow the economy.

He is interrupting her; she ignores him and keeps talking.

He says Obama doubled the debt. Fact checkers? He’s talking about trickle down economics; giving companies tax incentives to invest. Doesn’t work.

He’s losing it. He’s screaming about NAFTA. He’s interrupting her. Lester needs to reign him in.

Go to HillaryClinton.com for the facts, she said. Your plans would add $5 million to the debt. Raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for investments.

This has to be stopped. He’s on the edge crazy. He wants to cut taxes on the wealthy to help create jobs. Companies are fleeing because taxes are so high. They can’t bring their money into the country because of bureaucratic red tape? He’s not even making sense.

Broad-based inclusive growth is what we need in America, she said, not more benefits for the wealthy. He’s got nothing to say except everything is awful and it’s her fault.

Lester Holt asks him about his tax returns. He says he’ll be happy to release them someday. He says he can’t release the taxes because he’s being audited. Holt says that doesn’t stop him from releasing taxes.

Audience cheers Trump. They shouldn’t have live audiences in these debates.

Clinton — he doesn’t want the American people to know he has paid nothing in federal taxes. “That makes me smart,” he says.

My suspicious is that people who actually like Trump think he is winning. He’s really good at complaining about all the stuff that’s wrong,

She’s going into all the people Trump has stiffed. You’ve taken their labor and taken the work they produced, and you stiffed them.

He’s saying that you can’t blame him for cheating his suppliers because the laws of the U.S. let him do it.

Race — He’s calling for Lawnorder, like Nixon. He’s not addressing racial problems except in terms of disorder.

He’s calling for stop and frisk! Unreal!

She really is doing very well in this debate. I haven’t yet seen her put a foot wrong.

Lester Holt asked Trump about birtherism. He’s now blaming Clinton for birtherism. Now he’s not even making sense.

My guess is that this debate won’t change the trajectory of the polls that much. She’s doing very well; he’s an idiot. But I think the people who are stupid enough to have believed Trump all along are still going to like Trump.

He thinks we should have taken the oil?

He thinks Iran was about to fall? He just makes shit up.

The Donald keeps sniffing. There’s already an Internet rumor that he’s on cocaine.

Lester Holt is insisting that Trump was for the war in Iraq in 2002. He denies it.

I think Clinton has landed some blows during the segment on national security.

China should go into North Korea? And why would China do that?

He saying the Iran deal should have included something about North Korea? WTF?

Trump has been losing it in this last segment. I think several of his rantings in this last segment are going to come back to bite him.

Well, that’s it. In some ways it wasn’t as awful as I had feared. Clinton did very well and hit all the right notes, I think. As the night wore on Trump got more and more defensive and more and more irrational. He didn’t help himself at all, I don’t think, although he probably didn’t drive his core supporters away. She probably helped herself just by demonstrating she doesn’t really have fangs dripping blood, but I don’t think she made any mistakes.

Red and Redder

I’m getting ready to resurrect the old slogan “Better dead than Red.” Of course, back in the day, “red” meant “Communist.” I’m struggling to come up with a term that sums up what “red” means now, other than “we are so screwed.”

In Red State Missouri the general election candidates are all running on the platform of Redder Than Thou. There’s an open seat in the governor’s mansion; the two candidates are:

  • Chris Koster, the Democrat, who brags about being tough on crime and how he is endorsed by the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police. After Ferguson, that’s, um, a tad alarming.
  • Eric Greitens, the Republican, whose primary campaign ads featured him gunning down some farmer’s field. His major selling point is being former Navy Seal.

I’m pleased to say Kostner is ahead in the polls. Kostner appears to be okay on women’s reproductive rights and also on marriage equality and Obamacare. He may be trusted to continue the illustrious legacy of the current governor, Jay Nixon, who functioned primarily to veto whatever nonsense the legislature came up with. Greitens will, I fear, do to Missouri what Sam Brownback did to Kansas, and also will green light whatever shit-for-brains laws the state legislature comes up with. If Greitens wins, I would advise anyone with business interests in the state to get the hell out before the inauguration.

Republican Senator Roy Blunt, patron saint of lobbyists, is up for re-election. He’s one of those incumbents who feels as if he’s been around since Reconstruction, but it’s probably only been since the Coolidge Administration. The man’s a walking archetype of what’s wrong with Washington. If Blunt were an actor, he’d be the guy they’d always want to cast as the fat cat politician. Naturally, Blunt, who has never served in the military, enjoys the endorsement of the NRA and has featured this prominently in his campaign.

The NRA released an ad attacking Blunt’s opponent, Democrat Jason Kander, who is currently the Missouri Secretary of State. Kander released this ad:

Basically, Kander has the nerve to think there are some people who shouldn’t have guns. People with criminal records, for example. He’s also on the record as being opposed to “stand your ground” laws and thinks there are some places civilians shouldn’t be carrying guns,, such as schools. This makes him an official Enemy of Freedom as far as the gun nuts are concerned.

Gail Collins commented on this race, and added:

Now Hillary Clinton is running on centrist reforms like background checks, while Donald Trump wants to eliminate gun-free zones at, say, nursery schools and give people from Missouri the right to carry their permit-free concealed weapons in Midtown Manhattan.

In gratitude, the N.R.A. has been running an ad that shows an intruder smashing into a house where a woman is sleeping, alone. When the terrified resident opens the safe where she keeps her gun, said weapon vanishes, and it’s pretty much curtains. This could happen to you, if you let Hillary Clinton take away our “right to self-defense.”

Of course, a woman is less likely to be shot by an intruder than by a member of her family. And really, Missouri, do you want to have everybody in St. Louis carrying a concealed weapon? Let’s talk.

Blunt is leading in the polls, but it’s close enough that Kander “has a shot.” Please, oh please …

Deplorable or Pitiful?

You will have heard about Hillary Clinton’s infamous “deplorables” remark.

“To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables,” Clinton said. “Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”

Of course, actual Trump supporters, who whine incessantly about “political correctness,” threw a fit and complained that Clinton wasn’t nice to them. Meanwhile, they’re assaulting Trump protesters again. Those who are not Trump supporters think that “half” is way too low an estimate.

However, I think “pitiful” is more accurate than deplorable.

Here’s a New York Times story that was published a couple of days before the “deplorable” remark. It’s one of those “educated well-paid East Coast reporter spends time with hick southern rednecks, tries to be sympathetic” stories. For example:

Far from the metropolitan hubs inhabited by the main beneficiaries of globalization’s churn, many people feel disenfranchised from both main political parties, angry at stagnant wages and growing inequality, and estranged from a prevailing liberal urban ethos. I heard a lot about how Obama has not been supportive enough of the police, of how white lives matter, too, and of how illegal — as in illegal immigrant — means illegal, just as robbing a bank is. For anyone used to New York chatter, or for that matter London or Paris chatter, Kentucky is a through-the-looking-glass experience. There are just as many certainties; they are simply the opposite ones, whether on immigration, police violence toward African-Americans, or guns. America is now tribal, with each tribe imbibing its own social-media-fed ranting.

I’m hearing him say “This species homo ignarus is like us, only opposite.” But maybe I’m not being charitable.

Hazard is in Perry County, where unemployment is above 10 percent. On a bench opposite the county courthouse, on the Starbucks-free Main Street, I found Steve Smith and Paul Bush. Smith used to work underground at the Starfire mine. He earned as much as $1,500 a week, but was laid off a while ago. His unemployment has dried up and he has four children to feed. His family scrapes by on his wife’s income as a nurse. He’d been in court over a traffic offense; now an idle afternoon stretched away.

“Trump’s going to get us killed, probably!” he told me. “But I’ll vote for him anyway over Hillary. If you vote for Hillary you vote for Obama, and he’s made it impossible to ship coal. This place is about dried up. A job at Wendy’s is the only thing left. We may have to move.”

Trump has promised he will get the coal industry up and running again, but of course that’s not going to happen. A very long time ago someone should have been explaining to coal mine workers and their dependents that coal is going away and not coming back. And politicians in the state should have been pro-active in bringing in industries or something to replace coal. But nobody did that, and nobody ever talks to these people except to exploit them.

Jenny Williams, an English teacher at Hazard Community and Technical College, told me it’s past time to get over divisions between “Friends of Coal” — a popular movement and bumper sticker — and anti-coal environmentalists to forge a creative economy around agriculture, ecotourism, education and small-scale manufacture. Coal, she observed, was never going to last forever. “How could any idiot support Trump?” she said. “But when you’ve been on $70,000 a year in coal mines, and your life’s pulled out from under you, who else can you be mad at but the government?”

This has been beyond obvious for a long time. But while the Trump supporters blame Obama, they should have been blaming the local and state officials and their U.S. Congress critters who did nothing to address the inevitable end of coal going back 20 and 30 years. Even now, according to the article, those same officials are asking for something to be done to save coal.

“We need Trump for a reasonable Supreme Court and an E.P.A no longer skewed against fossil fuels,” Bissett argued. “A lot of jobs here still depend on coal and cheap electricity. That’s why Clinton is toxic right now.”

They still aren’t facing reality.

Back to the guys in front of the courthouse:

He was awaiting his son, in court on a drug charge for the painkiller Percocet. A retired operator of heavy equipment for the Road Department, Bush said his son did nothing, “just a few odd jobs.” He continued: “Obama’s probably never known hardship. He and Hillary don’t get it. At least Trump don’t hold nothing back: If he don’t like something, he tells you about it.”

His son’s girlfriend emerged from the courthouse. “They locked him up,” she said.


“He failed one of the drug tests.”

“Well, ain’t nothin’ we can do about it,” Bush said.

 Like Trump ever suffered hardship, but let’s go on … The small-town and rural South and Midwest are being eaten alive by drugs. Not only is it one way to make money; it’s easier to set up a meth lab or whatever that won’t get noticed if you’ve got lots of woods to hide in, as opposed to a city. And you’ve got a population of people who don’t see a future for themselves, all too willing to self-medicate.

What’s happened to eastern Kentucky is devastating, but far from unique. At France’s diner, another popular Hazard hangout, Daniel Walker, who works from home for a medical software company, told me: “Look, I lived for a while in Mansfield, Ohio, and General Motors moved its stamping plant there to Mexico, with the loss of thousands of factory jobs. The decent middle-class life is gone.”

This is the real complaint, and it goes beyond coal. Somehow, politicians saw that these big global trade deals would boost the economy overall, but they ignored the part about cutting middle-class  workers out of the deal. All those factories closed; people were just supposed to find other jobs. But there were no other jobs, or at least, not jobs that paid at the same rate.

I can remember when George W. Bush promised Americans that it was okay to ship manufacturing jobs to India, because that would just create more jobs here in America. It was absurd, but I suspect he believed it. I suspect all of the people he ever talked to about economics believed it. Outsourcing creates new foreign markets; new foreign markets meant that companies here made more money. Obviously there would be jobs.

But doing what, exactly? That’s where the dots don’t connect. American companies made more money but had no work for American workers to do.

There are communities like Hazard County all over America, where there was once a factory or a mine or some sort of industry that paid good wages. Fifty years ago the boys could graduate from high school one day and get a secure, decent-paying job the next day. And with the money they made they bought cars and houses and kept money flowing through that community. That way of life is pretty much gone in the U.S., and nobody prepared the working class for it or even gave serious thought about what would happen to those workers when the industrial jobs dried up.

“Nobody” includes politicians of both parties. As long as their investment portfolios were doing well, everything was hunky-dory.

In a way, I can’t blame them for preferring the candidate promising change, narcissistic humbug though he may be, over the one who exemplifies the status quo. Yes, a lot of these workers are racist and xenophobic and badly educated, and they have no clue what’s really going on in the world. But who’s telling them anything about what’s really going on? Politicians? News media? Um, nobody, that’s who.


Now the Dems are worried that Hillary Clinton may not have as strong a lock on the “black vote” as they had assumed. Especially the younger “black vote.”

Young African-Americans, like all voters their age, are typically far harder to drive to the polls than middle-aged and older Americans. Yet with just over two months until Election Day, many Democrats are expressing alarm at the lack of enthusiasm, and in some cases outright resistance, some black millennials feel toward Mrs. Clinton.

Now they notice.  Especially after the early southern primaries in which African American voters gave Hillary Clinton what would prove to be an insurmountable advantage in the pledged delegate count, establishment Democrats have assumed African American voters were safely locked in the “we’re with her” box.

Indeed, for a time we who supported Sanders were jeered at as letting our “white privilege” show, because if we really cared about African American issues we’d support Hillary, for some reason that was never clear to me. And no other politician on earth beside Hillary Clinton could be counted on to defeat Donald Trump, we were told.

Of course, those early southern primaries were held before voters had had much of a chance to know who Bernie Sanders even was.

A Gallup poll back in February showed a whopping 31 percent of black Democrats polled didn’t even have an opinion of Sanders yet, while only eight percent had no opinion in regards to Clinton. Obviously Clinton had much more name recognition than Sanders, but 1/3 of the voters of an entire race is a staggering number—and one that could clearly cost a candidate dearly.

And I’m sure Sanders regrets not working harder to make himself known. But it still stinks.

Sanders enjoyed a the support of a majority of black millennial voters, a point usually buried deeply in the few news stories that mentioned it at all. But now the Clinton campaign is in general election mode, and to their consternation they are realizing they can’t count on the black millennial vote. And this could cost them some swing states.

The question of just how many young African-Americans will show up to vote carries profound implications for this election. Mrs. Clinton is sure to dominate Mr. Trump among black voters, but her overwhelming margin could ultimately matter less than the total number of blacks who show up to vote.

To replicate President Obama’s success in crucial states such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, she cannot afford to let the percentage of the electorate that is black slip far below what it was in 2012. And while a modest drop-off of black votes may not imperil Mrs. Clinton’s prospects, given Mr. Trump’s unpopularity among upscale white voters, it could undermine Democrats’ effort to capture control of the Senate and win other down-ballot elections.

The real problem is that Democratic elites cleared the field for Clinton before the primaries even started to be sure she’d be the nominee. They had persuaded themselves from polls that the Democratic base adored her and would support her candidacy with wild enthusiasm. But the same polls taken at the same point in the election cycle showed exactly the same thing in 2007, as well. The truth is that a big chunk of the Democratic base has been lukewarm, at most, to her all along. And independent voters are not even lukewarm.

With the DNC’s partisan help, and with no real competition in the primaries other than an aging socialist, she prevailed. IMO if Joe Biden or Sherrod Brown or Liz Warren or a number of other well-known Dems had challenged her, she probably would have lost the nomination again. Hence, the field had to be cleared. The elites seem to have missed the part about how an astroturf candidate might be weak in the general election.

Mrs. Clinton’s difficulties with young African-Americans were laid bare in four focus groups conducted in Cleveland and Jacksonville, Fla., for a handful of progressive organizations spending millions on the election: the service employees union, a joint “super PAC” between organized labor and the billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, and a progressive group called Project New America. The results were outlined in a 25-page presentation by Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster, and shared with The New York Times by another party strategist who wanted to draw attention to Mrs. Clinton’s difficulties in hopes that the campaign would move more aggressively to address the matter.

The only message that Clinton is getting out is that she’s not Donald Trump, and that ought to be enough to win the election, because Trump is horrible. But one does wonder what she’s raising money for.

Clinton is beginning September with $68 million in her campaign coffers. The hefty war chest means the Democratic White House hopeful has the resources to continue an expensive ad blitz against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, while also investing in an expansive field operation.

The only Clinton television ad I’ve seen more than once is one in which Trump is on a television talk show showing off his ties made in China. The black millennials (and white ones, also) want to know what she plans to do about systemic racism, including mass incarceration and police conduct. She’s issued statements about these things, her campaign says.

Do you know what those statements are? This information is sorta kinda on  her website, if you want to read about it, but I haven’t seen anything in news media. And yes, Trump is sucking all the air out of news coverage. But Clinton hasn’t held a splashy public event in several weeks. She’s been busy raising money.  That field operation she’s investing in must be something.

There’s still the debates, and I still expect her to win. But she’s still a terrible candidate.

The Collateral Damage of Neoliberalism

A professor emerita of sociology at the University of California-Berkeley spends time with Trump supporters in Louisiana and forms a hypothesis about why they support Trump, which actually is interesting and insightful. Read “I Spent Five Years With Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans” by Arlie Russell Hochschild.

The capsule version is that there are pockets of white culture that have developed a huge ambivalence, shall we say, about government. I can remember when people of the same demographic were excited about Ronald Reagan because they believed he would “kick all the bums off welfare,” as one woman told me then.

Hochschild’s hypothesis is that these white people consider it shameful to take government assistance and resent the “undeserving” types who are in an imaginary line ahead of them and soaking up all the benefits. “Shaming the ‘takers’ below had been a precious mark of higher status.”

But then she says,

Trump, the King of Shame, has covertly come to the rescue. He has shamed virtually every line-cutting group in the Deep Story—women, people of color, the disabled, immigrants, refugees. But he’s hardly uttered a single bad word about unemployment insurance, food stamps, or Medicaid, or what the tea party calls “big government handouts,” for anyone—including blue-collar white men.

In this feint, Trump solves a white male problem of pride. Benefits? If you need them, okay. He masculinizes it. You can be “high energy” macho—and yet may need to apply for a government benefit. As one auto mechanic told me, “Why not? Trump’s for that. If you use food stamps because you’re working a low-wage job, you don’t want someone looking down their nose at you.” A lady at an after-church lunch said, “If you have a young dad who’s working full time but can’t make it, if you’re an American-born worker, can’t make it, and not having a slew of kids, okay. For any conservative, that is fine.”

But in another stroke, Trump adds a key proviso: restrict government help to real Americans. White men are counted in, but undocumented Mexicans and Muslims and Syrian refugees are out. Thus, Trump offers the blue-collar white men relief from a taker’s shame: If you make America great again, how can you not be proud? Trump has put on his blue-collar cap, pumped his fist in the air, and left mainstream Republicans helpless. Not only does he speak to the white working class’ grievances; as they see it, he has finally stopped their story from being politically suppressed. We may never know if Trump has done this intentionally or instinctively, but in any case he’s created a movement much like the anti-immigrant but pro-welfare-state right-wing populism on the rise in Europe. For these are all based on variations of the same Deep Story of personal protectionism.

It struck me while I was reading this that white folks didn’t have problems with the New Deal. I know I’ve written about this in the past, but the anti-government thing really didn’t start until Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program. Then, all of a sudden, white people who had been helped enormously by many New Deal programs, and who had received subsidized mortgages and college educations thanks to the GI Bill, were against government programs.

But they might have gotten over that by now had the Democrats remained committed to working class Americans. But in the 1980s neoliberalism became the new, shiny thing among up-and-coming Democrats, and neoliberalism threw working people under the bus in favor of of investors and entrepreneurs. The neolibs were even anti-union.

Red states are, in fact, a lot stingier with benefits, and “welfare reform” didn’t help. (See also.) In the poorer states, white people are either hanging on to a middle-class lifestyle by their fingernails or have fallen out of it. And once you’ve lost your grip, it’s close to impossible to climb back up.

Hochschild’s hypothesis is also interesting because it tells us that Trump voters are rejecting right-wing “small government” ideology. Maybe the tipping point has finally been reached at which enough red-state whites are hurting enough to admit they need help, but they are still too racist to accept help if it puts them in the same welfare line, so to speak, as nonwhites.

Well, it’s a start. But see “Trump a Working-Class Hero? A Blue-Collar Town Debates His Credentials.” Here it’s blue-collar workers in Youngstown, Ohio, who have watched their community get poorer and poorer.  Trump appeals to many of them because they think he will take charge and actually do something, as opposed to the nothing they’ve gotten from either the public or private sector for a long time. Of course, one would hope a more pro-active and progressive government would have done something to keep Youngstown from stagnating in the first place. But government hasn’t been pro-active and progressive for a very long time.

A number of people interviewed in this article are Democrats who plan to vote for Trump. Hillary Clinton isn’t mentioned. But note that all the polls show Clinton beating Trump in Ohio.

Natural Disasters Are Not Photo-Ops

Federal response to the floods in Louisiana has been pretty good, by all accounts. That much destruction is going to be painful, and housing is going to be an issue for some time. But according to The Advocate of Baton Rouge, the federal response to the current flooding is light years ahead of what happened after Hurricane Katrina.

The governor of Lousiana, John Bel Edwards, advised against a presidential visit right now (President Obama will visit next week), citing concerns about the motorcade and security and the press corps and whatever while people still needed rescuing. So the President has stayed away, and so has Hillary Clinton.

Naturally, Donald Trump and Mike Pence showed up today, and did so without bothering to advise the governor.  Gov. Edwards was not pleased

“Donald Trump hasn’t called the governor to inform him of his visit,” a spokesman for Edwards’ office said in a statement Thursday evening. “We welcome him to LA but not for a photo-op. Instead we hope he’ll consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the LA Flood Relief Fund to help the victims of the storm.”

So Trump toured Baton Rouge today, telling residents he was “here to help.” As near as I can tell the only thing anybody actually got from him was his autograph. I, for one, will not be holding my breath waiting for Trump to donate anything to the LA Flood Relief Fund.

Update: I spoke too soon; it turns out Trump spent all of 49 seconds unloading toys off a truck. Well, never mind.

What’s Happening Now

The Justice Department is going to phase out the use of private prisons. This news prompted a sudden drop in stock prices for private prison companies. Heh.

Aetna is dropping out of the health insurance market in about two-thirds of the counties it now serves. The ditched counties are mostly rural, low-population ones. Now it turns out that Aetna had threatened to drop out of Obamacare if the feds blocked its proposed merger with Humana. The Feds have sued to block the merger, and Aetna started shedding counties.

Bernie Sanders has revived the fight for a public option on the insurance exchanges.

“In my view, the provision of health care cannot continue to be dependent upon the whims and market projections of large private insurance companies whose only goal is to make as much profit as possible,” Sanders said in a statement on Tuesday.

“That is why we need to join every other major country on earth and guarantee health care to all as a right, not a privilege,” he said.

Aetna announced late Monday that it would pull out of ObamaCare exchanges in 11 states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas. The company’s CEO, Mark Bertolini, cited $200 million in losses over the past few months as a major reason for the move.

According to Wikipedia, Bertolini received $30.7 million in compensation in 2013, so if the company needs to cut some corners, I can think of a place to start.

In other news, Gawker.com will cease operations next week.

The NRA wants women to keep guns in their homes for protection. But if a woman actually uses a gun to protect herself, the NRA doesn’t come to her defense when she’s thrown in jail. Why is that?

Finally, you probably heard that The Great Awfulness/Bad Hair has hired Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, to be his new campaign manager.

Since June, Manafort has tried fruitlessly to mold Trump into someone palatable to establishment Republicans and the swing voters he’ll need to win over if he’s to have any chance of beating Hillary Clinton. Bannon, who becomes chief executive of the Trump campaign, represents a sharp turn in the opposite direction—a fireball hurtling toward the 2016 presidential election. (In announcing the hiring, the Trump campaign quoted Bloomberg Businessweek’s description of Bannon from a profile last fall as “the most dangerous political operative in America.”) Along with campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, Bannon will encourage Trump to cast aside political niceties and aggressively go with his gut. “I’ve known Steve for a long time—he is an extraordinary guy, an extraordinary talent, and he, like me, truly loves our country,” Trump said in a statement to Businessweek.

Trump’s own diagnosis of his campaign’s shortcomings led to this unusual prescription—which is the diametric opposite of what most Republicans have been counseling for their embattled nominee. “The campaign has been too lethargic, too reactive,” says a senior Trump official. “They wanted to bring in someone who understood new media, understood digital. It’s not going to be a traditional campaign.” Trump was frustrated by Manafort’s efforts to contain him and angry about his plummeting poll numbers. With Bannon in the fold, the source adds, Trump will feel free to unleash his inner Trump: “It’s very simple. This is a change election. He needs to position himself as anti-establishment, the candidate of change, and the candidate who’s anti-Washington.”

The shake-up is an ominous development for Republican elected officials alarmed at Trump’s collapse and the effect he could have on down-ballot races across the country. In recent years, Breitbart News has bedeviled Republican leaders, helping to drive out former House Speaker John Boehner and, more recently, making life difficult for his successor, Paul Ryan. Last fall, at Bannon’s insistence, Breitbart reporters visited Ryan’s Wisconsin home (which is surrounded by a wall) and published a story shaming him for not endorsing Trump’s proposal to erect a wall along the Mexico border.

See also Nate Silver, “Trump Is Doubling Down on a Losing Strategy.” Also, Sam Wang says the Dems are currently favored to take back the Senate.

Stuff to Read About Trump

Charles Pierce argues that now is the time for the Republican Party to die. See also The End of the Republican Party at FiveThirtyEight.

While I don’t see the Republican Party disappearing anytime soon, Donald Trump’s chances of becoming POTUS are sinking faster than cement shoes in the East River. Per FiveThirtyEight, on July 30 it was Trump, 50.1, Clinton, 49.9. Now it’s 18.4 and 81.5, respectively. At this rate Trump will be in negative numbers by Monday.

A former Wall Street Journal reporter writes about his days covering Donald Trump. He writes that Donald Trump is a bad, bad businessman.

A former deputy director of the CIA endorses Hillary Clinton. This is the juiciest bit:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.

Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.

In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.

Trump’s erratic behavior is getting so much media attention that Hillary Clinton is nearly invisible. This may be helping her also.

Clinton’s biggest problem now is that she’s not doing so well among Millennials.

And yet even though roughly three-fourths of all battleground-state Millennials expressed these disparaging views of Trump, the survey found Clinton drawing just 43 percent against him in a four-way race that included libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. While Trump attracted only 24 percent, nearly as many picked Johnson or Stein, and the rest said they were either undecided or wouldn’t vote. By comparison, Obama carried two-thirds of Millennials in 2008 and three-fifths in 2012.

But in comparing two-way and four-way polls at Real Clear Politics, it seems to me that the two fringe party candidates, Stein and Johnson, are taking votes from both Clinton and Trump about equally. So that may be a wash.

Fortunately, the Olympics will give us a little relief from politics. Enjoy.

Making Derp Great Again

I caught a bit of Chris Christie’s speech last night and savored the irony of Mr. 26 percent — that’s the percentage of New Jersey registered voters who still think Christie is doing a good job — calling Hillary Clinton “incompetent.”

It occurs to me that both parties are primarily running on scaring the bejeezus out of the voters. Vote for X, because Y will bring about the Apocalypse. But, true to form, the Right is threatening more violence. Josh Marshall:

As we’ve discussed, it’s not normal for one nominee and his convention delegates to be chanting for the opposing party nominee to be put in prison. I felt a bit silly writing that because that is extremely obvious. But it’s not some silly novelty. You go from opposition, to demands for imprisonment and finally for murder. We saw that case with the state rep down in West Virginia. Now we have a Trump delegate and advisor saying Clinton should be “shot for treason.” This kind of incitement is poisonous to the political process and civic life generally. And let’s be honest, it can have horrific consequences. This has the feeling of the crazy talk that was circulating about President Kennedy before November 1963.

And then there’s this:

According to xHamster, one of the leading aggregators of online porn, traffic from users in Cleveland spiked significantly this week as the Republican National Convention got underway. Viewership in the city shot up by 184 percent from its pre-convention average, surpassing traffic the site gets from people in large cities including New York, Miami and Los Angeles.

“This increase is unprecedented,” said Mike Kulich, a spokesman for the web site. “They’re making porn great again.”

Since the GOP platform declares that porn is a public health menace, perhaps they were doing research.

Although it doesn’t quite rise to the level of Clint Eastwood and the Chair, Melania Trump’s partly plagiarized speech has gotten more media attention than whatever it was Chris Christie said last night. The Trump campaign has offered up a number of excuses, until today when a staffer fell on her sword and took the blame. But the damage was done.

Across the country, slack-jawed Republican political operatives and speechwriters expressed expletive-laden bewilderment at the organizational breakdown allowing such an episode to occur.

“It’s like some guy trying to paddle across a river in a rowboat who shoots a hole in his boat,” said Stuart Stevens, who wrote speeches for Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, throughout the 2012 campaign.

In interviews, alarmed Republican speechwriters outlined the layers of formal scrutiny, apparently disregarded by the Trump campaign, traditionally applied to almost every draft of a major convention address. They described word-by-word fact-checking by a dedicated team of experts and computer software designed to catch plagiarism. Several online programs, like DupliChecker, are available at no cost.

The Trump family: Making Derp Great Again.