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TBR News August 22, 2018

Aug 22 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. August 22, 2018:”The results of the latest court cases involving criminal acts by close Trump associates are expected but devastating for Trump’s future in office. He has fanatic supporters; mostly country people, obsessive gun owners, very far right wing members and religious fanatics, but there are not enough of them to either assure Republican control of Congress or to get him reelected to the Oval office.

People in Washington who have contact with Trump know him as a boastful bully, a chronic liar and and man with the morals of a simian. He has been taped by an associate using foul language and, more important, strong racial comments.

If the large Latin American population and the even larger black population of the United States organize themselves, Trump and his obedient hand puppets will be a part of an ugly episode of American political history, soon to be forgotten.”

 

The Table of Contents

  • Jolted by ex-allies’ criminal cases, Trump faces election and legal risks
  • Cohen bombshell sparks fresh calls for Trump impeachment – but what happened to Russia collusion?
  • Will Donald Trump remain bulletproof after Manafort and Cohen?
  • Manafort trial has Ukraine freshly nervous about Trump
  • Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: Number 5
  • Trump turmoil latest: lawyer says Cohen has information regarding Russian conspiracy
  • Trump biography
  • The inescapable weight of my $100,000 student debt

Jolted by ex-allies’ criminal cases, Trump faces election and legal risks

August 21, 2018

by Steve Holland and James Oliphant

Reuters

WASHINGTON/CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump suffered twin setbacks on Tuesday with two ex-advisers facing prison sentences – and one of them saying Trump told him to commit a crime – possibly hurting his Republican Party’s election prospects and widening a criminal probe that has overshadowed his presidency.

Within minutes of each other in separate courts, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty on tax and bank fraud charges, while Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to a range of charges.

Cohen also testified that Trump directed him to commit a crime by arranging payments ahead of the 2016 presidential election to silence two women who said they had had affairs with Trump.

The setbacks refocused attention on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow and whether Trump obstructed justice by firing then-FBI Director James Comey, who was formerly in charge of the investigation.

Trump has denied collusion, calling Mueller’s probe a “witch hunt.”

Of the two latest developments, Cohen’s plea deal was the more troublesome, said those around Trump.

“A bad day for the home team,” said one source close to the president, who asked not to be identified.

The source added that the legal woes could depress voter turnout and increase Republicans’ risk of losing their 23-seat majority in the House of Representatives in November’s congressional elections. “This hurts our midterm prospects.”

A Democratic victory in November would limit Trump’s ability to push through legislation and increase the risk of calls for his impeachment.

Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, said late on Tuesday that his client was “more than happy” to tell Mueller’s legal team everything he knows about Trump.

Democrats pounced on the Cohen and Manafort cases, saying they bolstered their argument that the Trump White House was weighed down by scandal.

“The American people deserve answers regarding the president’s role in these corrupt and criminal actions,” said Democratic RepresentativeRosa DeLauro.

Rodell Mollineau, a senior Democratic strategist, said the news “adds to a constant drumbeat that will ultimately affect some independent voters” and help Democrats at the polls.

“Manafort being convicted, on its own, might not sway any votes. But given the totality of criminality uncovered … it will be hard for some Republicans to ignore and even harder to explain.”

Still, there were no immediate calls for Trump’s impeachment and Republican lawmakers did not join the chorus of criticism from Democratic ranks.

LOYAL SUPPORT

The long-term impact of the Cohen and Manafort cases will likely depend on how they affect the turnout of Republican and Democratic voters in November.

While he undoubtedly had a bad day on Tuesday, some analysts said Trump might be able to turn the setbacks to his advantage by reinforcing core supporters’ views that he is under siege, said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

“In midterm elections, the president’s party tends to be less interested and less motivated to vote. But one thing that will motivate people to get out and vote is if they believe the party is being attacked unfairly,” he said.

At a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, on Tuesday night, a relatively subdued Trump did not mention either the Cohen or Manafort case.

Instead, as supporters cheered him on, he made fun of his opponents’ focus on the Mueller investigation, saying they were desperate to find collusion with Russians.

“Where is the collusion? Where is it?” he said, mimicking his critics.

Josh McGrew, who traveled from Huntington, West Virginia, for the rally, called the investigation a “smear campaign” and said his support for Trump was unshaken.

“This is all about finding out anything they can in somebody’s past,” McGrew said. “They haven’t come up with anything in a year and a half, almost two years.”

Polling by Ipsos/Reuters has shown Trump’s job approval rating holding steady at about 40 percent, even with Mueller’s investigation already bringing guilty pleas by several former Trump advisers.

The Cohen and Manafort cases were unlikely to erode Trump’s support from his political base or the Republican Party establishment, said Larry Sabato, a political analyst and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“I don’t think there is any change at all,” said Sabato. “That’s the amazing part of it. The Trump base and virtually the entire Republican Party could care less. The polls will bear me out.”

Reporting by Steve Holland and James Oliphant; Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney

 

Cohen bombshell sparks fresh calls for Trump impeachment – but what happened to Russia collusion?

August 22, 2018

RT

Michael Cohen’s testimony that Donald Trump told him to violate campaign finance laws is sparking fresh calls for impeachment, with #Resistors curiously silent on how ‘Russia collusion’ became ‘giving women hush money.’

The conviction of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, on tax and bank fraud charges, coupled with news that the president’s former attorney Cohen, pleaded guilty to a range of charges on the same day, sent social media and news outlets into a frenzy, with many calling for – or speculating about – Trump’s removal from office.

But the latest calls for impeachment were not sparked by evidence provided by Manafort or Cohen pointing to Trump’s collusion with Moscow. Instead, Cohen’s testimony that then-candidate Trump ordered him to pay off two women ahead of the 2016 presidential election, in violation of campaign finance laws, is now seen as the smoking (but not very Russian) gun.

The media immediately seized on the revelation, with Politico reporting that Cohen’s accusations have “fuelled impeachment fears” in the White House and could embolden Robert Mueller’s probe – “even if they are unrelated to allegations of collusion with Russia.”

Democratic lawmakers have also spoken out about Tuesday’s court rulings. Congressman David Price said that it would be wrong to rule out the possibility of impeaching the president if the Democrats win a majority in Congress after the midterm elections. “I expect that we will confront [impeachment]. At a minimum, we’re going to confront the need to investigate a great many things.”

Senator Ron Wyden insisted that Cohen’s crimes could be traced back to Donald Trump, and any attempt by the president to pardon his former associates would “constitute high crimes and misdemeanors” – the Constitution’s threshold for impeachment.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, tweeted out on Tuesday that the guilty verdicts against Manafort and guilty plea by Cohen “are further evidence of the rampant #CultureOfCorruption & criminality at the heart of Trump’s inner circle.” However, the California congresswoman stopped short of calling for impeachment.

But even if the Democratic leadership have not committed to impeachment proceedings – there’s a worry that promises of impeachment could galvanize Trump’s Republican base and give them a reason to show up at the polls for November’s midterm elections – activists and commentators passed around the #ImpeachTrump hashtag on Twitter.

But somehow, the ‘Russia collusion’ narrative which launched Robert Mueller’s investigation and could end up putting two ex-Trump associates behind bars, has all-but-evaporated amid #Resistance jubilation over Manafort’s conviction and Cohen’s guilty plea.

And as the Washington Post noted in a rather sobering legal analysis about the likelihood of impeachment, Mueller “determined months ago that allegations of campaign finance violations involving payments to women before the presidential election were outside the scope of his mandate to investigate whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia’s operation to influence the vote.”

And impeachment may be harder than it sounds – even if it turns out that Trump did direct his personal attorney to violate campaign finance laws. #Resistors would likely have to wait until Trump is no longer in office before attempting to throw the book at him, since “under long-standing legal interpretations by the Justice Department, the president cannot be charged with a crime.”

“The department produced legal analyses in 1973 and 2000 concluding that the Constitution does not allow for the criminal indictment of a sitting president,” the Washington Post wrote. “Those opinions have never been tested in court, and doing so would require a prosecutor to buck the department’s guidance and attempt to bring charges anyway.”

 

Will Donald Trump remain bulletproof after Manafort and Cohen?

August 22, 2018

by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter

BBC News

Tuesday’s duelling courtroom dramas in New York and Virginia were the kind of body blows that would stagger, if not fell, most presidencies. And those were just the two top headlines in a day that contained a string of dismal news for Donald Trump.

Will any of this matter? The president – at least among his base – has appeared politically bulletproof. Bulletproof for now, however, doesn’t necessarily mean bulletproof forever. At some point, the projectiles – perhaps after the mid-terms, when Republican control of Congress and power to set the political agenda may be blunted – may start finding the mark.

Here’s a look at just how bad a day this was for the president.

Cohen has implicated Trump in criminal conduct

The president’s former personal lawyer didn’t just stand in court on Tuesday and accuse the president of lying – although he did do that.

By saying that Mr Trump – “individual-1” in the plea agreement – directed him to make or oversee payments in 2016 to secure the silence of women poised to accuse the president of having adulterous affairs with them, he effectively implicated the president in the commission of a crime.

Cohen admitted that his payments constituted campaign contributions that either were directed from an illegal corporate source or in excess of allowable amounts for an individual. Both acts carry a five-year maximum prison sentence.

The president in the past has denied having any knowledge of the payments. His legal team has since walked that back and asserted that he only had general knowledge after the fact. Now, however, Cohen is saying Mr Trump knew about them from the start.

And it’s not just Cohen’s word against the president’s. In the case of the payment to Karen MacDougal – “woman-1” in the plea agreement – his lawyer has already released an audio recording in which Cohen and then-candidate Mr Trump discussed the issue.

Add to this the fact that “woman-2”, adult film actress Stormy Daniels, is now poised to resume her lawsuit against Mr Trump to get out of her non-disclosure agreement brokered by Cohen. A judge put the suit on hold pending the criminal investigation into Cohen, which now appears to be resolved. That suit could turn up more evidence of Mr Trump’s involvement in the illegal $130,000 hush-money payment Cohen has now confessed to making to her on the eve of the 2016 election.

It’s heavy seas ahead for the president any way you look at it.

Special counsel team notches a trial conviction

Special Counsel Robert Mueller was under considerable pressure to get a conviction in his case against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. Even though the charges did not directly relate to the central thrust of his investigation into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, it was the first time his team had to face a jury.

If they had walked away without a conviction, either through a hung jury or an outright acquittal, the accusations from Trump loyalists that the investigation was a waste of resources and time would have reached a fevered pitch.

◾Trump fears ‘perjury trap’ in Russia inquiry

It wasn’t an across-the-board victory for Mr Mueller, given that the jury couldn’t reach a verdict on 10 of the 18 counts, but convictions on tax fraud, failing to disclose foreign bank accounts and bank fraud are points on the board.

Add that to the numerous indictments of Russian individuals and companies and plea agreements already reached with Trump campaign officials George Papadopolous, Michael Flynn and Rick Gates, as well as with London lawyer Alex van der Zwaan and computer programmer Richard Pinedo, and the special counsel team is producing a growing list of accomplishments.

Pressure on Manafort mounts

After the verdicts were announced, Manafort’s lawyer told the press that his client was “disappointed”. That may be a bit of an understatement. Even with convictions on only eight of the 18 criminal counts against him, Mr Trump’s former campaign chair could be looking at up to 80 years in prison.

And Manafort faces a second trial in Washington DC next month for money laundering, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, conspiracy to defraud the US, making false statements and witness tampering. It’s the bulk of the legal case against the long-time Washington lobbyist.

Manafort’s lawyers had insisted on the two separate trials, perhaps because they thought they he had a better chance of acquittal from an Alexandria jury or friendlier federal judges in the Northern Virginia district. If so, that plan backfired.

Manafort may be hoping for a presidential pardon, given that Mr Trump has said his prosecution was politically motivated and that he was a “good man”. The president can only pardon for federal crimes, however, and Manafort’s conviction on tax fraud opens him up to future state-level charges, which Mr Trump has no power to forgive.

Now 69-year-old Manafort is facing a lengthy prison sentence – and more legal battles to come. And while he hasn’t shown a willingness to co-operate with Mr Mueller’s investigation so far, that could change.

Manafort, after all, attended the June 2016 Trump tower meeting set up by Donald Trump Jr with Russian nationals, originally billed as a means to gather damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. He took a series of cryptic notes on the topic, which he might be willing to explain to the special counsel – in exchange for lightened sentence.

Having one’s former campaign chair end up as a convicted felon is not good news. If Manafort flips, however, a bad day for Mr Trump could, in hindsight, be a catastrophic one.

Flynn is still co-operating

Buried under Tuesday afternoon’s news was another nugget from the special counsel’s office, that it has requested the sentencing of former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn be delayed once again.

“Due to the status of the investigation, the Special Counsel’s Office does not believe that this matter is ready to be scheduled for a sentencing hearing at this time,” Mr Mueller’s lawyers told the court overseeing Flynn’s plea deal.

That would indicate that Flynn, who has admitted to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials during the Trump presidential transition, is still co-operating with Mr Mueller and that his usefulness to the investigation is ongoing. It might also mean that a formal sentencing hearing could reveal information Mr Mueller would prefer to keep secret at this time.

Either way, it’s a sign that, behind the scenes, gears are still grinding in Mr Mueller’s investigation.

Another early Trump supporter is charged

Two weeks ago Chris Collins of New York, the first member of the House of Representatives to endorse Mr Trump’s presidential bid, was indicted for insider trading. On Tuesday afternoon, Duncan Hunter – the second congressman to do so – was charged with using campaign funds for personal expenses, including trips for his family to Hawaii and Italy.

Earlier in the day Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled a sweeping programme of political reform measures she said were necessary to address widespread political corruption in Washington DC. That included a ban on all lobbying by former top government officials, a prohibition of all members of Congress and White House staff from holding individual corporate stocks and a requirement that all president and vice-presidential candidates disclose eight years of tax returns.

Similar calls for fixing a broken political system helped Democrats sweep into power in Congress in 2006. It did the same for Republicans in 1994. Mr Trump’s “drain the swamp” rhetoric was a constant rallying cry for his supporters in 2016.

After Tuesday’s onslaught of convictions, pleas and indictments, Warren’s slate of proposals could prove to be a potent mid-term weapon for Democrats this November, if they know how to use it.

 

Manafort trial has Ukraine freshly nervous about Trump

Good-government advocates say Ukrainian authorities will ignore the incriminating details from Paul Manafort’s trial, fearful of losing Donald Trump’s support.

August 19, 2018

by David Stern

Politico

KIEV — Paul Manafort’s criminal trial in the United States has also incriminated his political allies in Ukraine, where Manafort made millions as an operative. But good-government advocates here think Ukrainian authorities will decline to prosecute any officials, fearful of angering Donald Trump — a man whose help they need to keep Russia in check.

“The Ukrainian government will try to ignore this,” Alyona Getmanchuk, director of the Kiev-base New Europe Center, a think tank that promotes European and Western standards in Ukraine, told POLITICO. “Manafort is a person who was close to President Trump, and for whom Trump still may hold some sympathy.”

“They fear losing Trump’s support, or to provoke an unnecessary conflict with the US administration,” she added.

Still, some politicians and anti-corruption advocates believe new information disclosed in Manafort’s trial on bank and tax fraud charges should trigger new criminal action in Ukraine against officials and oligarchs who lavished Manafort with cash.

Ukrainians were taken aback during the trial to learn that the country’s former Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his political party, funneled more than $60 million in undeclared income to Manafort through a complex scheme of offshore shell companies. It was also revealed that one of Manafort’s companies briefly worked for President Petro Poroshenko’s first presidential campaign, potentially linking the country’s current leader to Manafort’s dealings as he heads into a tough bid for reelection next March.

But these advocates don’t expect these revelations to translate into legal action, given the power of the country’s oligarchs, the fact that no oligarch or top official has been convicted yet in the matter and the simple fact that further digging into Manafort could invite political blowback from Trump, who would not welcome new headlines involving his 2016 campaign chairman. POLITICO also found uncertainty among Ukrainian agencies over who would take up such an investigation.

Ukraine can ill-afford a rupture with the U.S. The country’s pro-U.S. government depends on Washington as a source of diplomatic, financial and military support against Russian territorial aggression in the country’s Donbass region, where Moscow-backed separatists have waged a years-long insurgency that has left more than 10,300 people dead. The Kremlin also annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 over the opposition of the international community.

And the Poroshenko administration is recovering from a rough start with Trump, who believes Ukrainian officials and political figures favored his campaign opponent, Hillary Clinton. Reports after the election that Ukrainian officials tried to help Clinton and damage Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office didn’t help smooth things over — although there’s no evidence Poroshenko himself was involved in these efforts.

Additionally, Serhiy Leshchenko, the parliament deputy and former muckraking journalist whose own original investigations aided Robert Mueller’s investigation, made public key details regarding the financial transactions to Manafort that helped fuel special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference during the 2016 election.

President Poroshenko seems to have soothed relations for the moment: Washington recently sold Javelin anti-tank missiles to Kiev, which the Ukrainians had long lobbied for in order to fight the Russian-backed insurgency in the country’s East.

In a show of support, John Bolton, the White House national security adviser, will also travel to Ukraine next week for the country’s independence day celebrations on Friday. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently issued a strong call for Russia to end its occupation of Crimea.

Still, fears exist that the relationship could again turn south, especially given Trump’s rapport with Russian President Vladimir Putin. With the Ukrainians fighting the Kremlin for their territorial integrity, they feel they have little room to maneuver.

“The situation isn’t stable between the White House and Ukraine — [Kiev] will try to avoid any factor that could weaken their position,” said Getmanchuk.

And the entire Manafort case, dating back to revelations last year, is a “very toxic” factor, Getmanchuk said, adding: “Some lessons have been learned.”

Still, she said, “I hope they will use this case as a pretext to communicate anti-corruption steps in the U.S. — to show that Ukraine is at least a little bit different now.”

At the moment, however, bureaucratic confusion reigns over how Ukraine will handle any new evidence that has come out of the Manafort trial. It’s not entirely clear which government body would pick up an investigation.

Officials at Ukraine’s general prosecutor’s office said that they will decide soon what they will do with the new information: open an entirely new investigation, use the evidence to supplement existing ones or do nothing at all.

Other authorities say Ukraine’s newly created Federal Bureau of Investigation — which isn’t yet up and running — should handle any probe. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the country’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, which is tasked with investigating corruption after the country’s 2014 revolution that pushed out Viktor Yanukovych, told POLITICO the organization is “aware” of the revelations in the U.S. and is “examining this information.”

Separately, Manafort is a person of interest — but not charged with any crime — in three cases currently being pursued by the Ukrainian general prosecutor’s office, including an investigation into off-the-books payments by Yanukovych’s political party (referred to in Ukraine as the case of the “black ledgers”).

These cases have encountered a number of roadblocks in Kiev, though. In April, Ukrainian officials stripped investigators of their right to issue subpoenas in the investigations, effectively freezing the probes. Some critics speculated that the cases were halted because of their political sensitivity at a time of tense U.S.-Ukraine relations. Officials say the freeze has since been lifted.

Washington officials have also hindered the probes. The Justice Department has failed to answer most letters from Ukrainian authorities requesting assistance in questioning Manafort and other witnesses, despite a legal assistance agreement between the two countries.

In Ukraine, there is pressure to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen with evidence exposed during the Manafort trial.

Leshchenko said the web of offshore accounts that Ukrainian politicians used to pay Manafort is patently illegal.

“It is against Ukrainian law to control companies and have direct control over offshore accounts while serving in the government,” Leshchenko told POLITICO, adding that some of the alleged participants were serving as ministers or deputies at the time of the transactions, such as Yanukovych’s head of administration, Serhiy Lyovochkin.

“If they made the transfers, it means that they were involved” and should be investigated, he said.

But there’s doubt that Leshchenko will get the robust investigation he wants.

“These guys have very good lawyers,” said Volodymyr Ariev, another member of Poroshenko’s parliamentary faction, noting that the power players and oligarchs involved in such transfers know how to preserve plausible deniability.

“It will be difficult to find them giving a command,” he said, adding that he will nonetheless call for an official inquiry into the new evidence when parliament reconvened.

Some in Ukraine argued that the payments that may have violated U.S. law don’t run afoul of Ukrainian statutes, making the issue even more difficult to adjudicate.

But the Trump administration — and Trump himself — looms large over the whole situation.

In addition to the missiles, the Defense Department recently announced it would send an additional $200 million to Ukraine to help with the ongoing conflict in the Donbass region. And Ukraine has leaned on the U.S. in the past to help encourage the European Union to retain sanctions against Moscow over the Crimea annexation, which were renewed in June for another six months.

Despite these positive signs for Ukraine, Trump continues to raise doubts about his intentions with Putin. While the State Department pledged to stand firm on fighting Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Trump has separately indicated he’d consider formally recognizing Russia’s land grab.

And despite Trump’s decision to postpone a follow-up summit with Putin, he still intends to welcome the leader to Washington, D.C., next year — a concerning prospect for Ukrainians.

The Manafort issue could come into sharper focus in Ukraine as the country’s presidential election heats up in the coming months, with reformers pressuring Poroshenko to investigate and critics dredging up his years-old Manafort connection.

Poroshenko currently sits fifth in opinion polls, trailing former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and some believe the president would be loath to take on the oligarchs — supremely powerful men with unlimited financial resources and extensive media holdings — at a time when he needs their support most.

The president’s office has also already tried to explain away Poroshenko’s Manafort link, saying his team only held one meeting with Manafort’s people, and that there was no relationship after that. Still, Poroshenko’s office had initially denied any contact at all.

To some Ukrainians, though, the Manafort revelations simply reveal business as usual. The new facts are “interesting for investigation,” said Alexandra Ustinova of Ukraine’s Anti-corruption Action Center, a nongovernmental organization. “But they’re not sensational.”

“They just confirm what we already know about Ukrainian oligarchs and politics in general — oligarchs are being oligarchs, and they are using their money to buy political influence,” she said.

 

 

Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: Number 5

August 8, 2018

by Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief

The Toronto Star, Canada

The Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected

If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? You can read our detailed explanation here. The short answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not teling the truth.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2018

 

  • Feb 18, 2017

“By the way, do you think that one media group back there, one network will show this crowd. Not one. Not one. They won’t show the crowd.”

Source: Campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida

in fact: CNN, Fox News and NBC all televised wide shots showing the size of the crowd at the rally.

Trump has repeated this claim 7 times

“By the way, we did very well with women. You know, my wife said when some of these phoney polls were put out, the CNN poll was so far off, the phoney polls. When some of these, she said, what’s wrong with you and women.”

Source: Campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida

in fact: The final CNN poll of the campaign came close to nailing Trump’s showing with women. The poll had Clinton up 52 per cent to 39 per cent, a 13-point lead; exit polls from the actual voting showed that Clinton had won with women 54 per cent to 41 per cent — 13 points.

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times

“We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden.”

Source: Campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida

in fact: No security incident of note happened the previous night in Sweden.

“We’ve allowed thousands and thousands of people into our country and there was no way to vet those people. There was no documentation. There was no nothing.” Added: “Tens of thousands of people into our country, and we don’t know anything about those people.”

Source: Campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida

in fact: Refugees to the U.S. are rigorously vetted. The process includes multiple kinds of background and security checks and at least two interviews with U.S. representatives. Regardless of their paperwork situation — some have detailed documents, some do not — the U.S. knows far more than nothing about the refugees it approves.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

“Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler are bringing in and bringing back thousands of Jobs, investing billions of dollars because of the new business climate that we are creating in our country. In Arizona, Intel, great company, just announced it will open a new plant that will create at least 10,000 brand new beautiful American Jobs.”

Source: Campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida

in fact: GM did not offer any indication that it made its new investment of $1 billion because of Trump, and independent automotive analysts said it was unlikely Trump was a major factor; GM invested $2.9 billion last year, before Trump was elected. The parent company of Chrysler said Trump had no influence on its newly announced $1 billion investment in Michigan and Ohio, telling ThinkProgress, “This plan was in the works back in 2015.” Intel says its new plant, on which it began and then halted work under Barack Obama, will employ up to 3,000 people; the 10,000 figure is an estimate of how many will be created “indirectly.”

Trump has repeated this claim 6 times

“Jobs are already starting to pour back in. They’re coming back in like you haven’t seen in a long time.”

Source: Campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida

in fact: There is no evidence of Jobs returning to the U.S. at levels unseen in a “long time.” Even if we give Trump credit for the good January Jobs report — calculated while Barack Obama was still in office — there is no sign of a boom that is without recent precedent. The U.S. economy added 227,000 Jobs in January. It did better than that during 11 months out of the last two years. For example, it added 233,000 in February 2016, 275,000 in July 2016 and 271,000 in December 2015.

“I also got Boeing in. I said do me a favour, give me a competing offer (for the F-35 fighter plane). And now they’re competing and fighting and we’ve gotten hundreds of millions of dollars off the price of a plane that was going to be ordered … So they’re going to make plenty of money, but it’s going to be a lot less than they would have made without Trump.”

Source: Campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida

in fact: Trump did not personally secure these savings: Lockheed Martin had been moving to cut the price well before Trump was elected, multiple aviation and defence experts say. Just a week after Trump’s election, the head of the F-35 program announced a reduction of 6 to 7 per cent — in the $600 million to $700 million range. “Trump’s claimed $600 million cut is right in the ballpark of what the price reduction was going to be all along,” wrote Popular Mechanics. “Bottom line: Trump appears to be taking credit for years of work by the Pentagon and Lockheed,” Aviation Week reported, per the Washington Post.

Trump has repeated this claim 13 times

 

  • Feb 23, 2017

“Gary, as you know — you all know Gary from Goldman, Gary Cohn. And we’re really happy — just paid $200 million in tax in order to take this job, by the way. Which is very much unlike Gary. But he’s great.”

Source: White House meeting with manufacturing CEOs

in fact: Cohn, Trump’s National Economic Council director, did not pay $200 million in tax to take the job. In fact, he did perhaps the exact opposite — sell stock worth more than $200 million. According to Bloomberg, Cohn, formerly president of Goldman Sachs, was preparing to divest “roughly $220 million of Goldman equity he already held or was awaiting, as well as stakes in company-run investment funds”; he also got an additional $65 million payout. Also relevant: he might not have to pay any tax on the sales for a long while. White House appointees who are forced to sell stock to avoid conflicts of interests are allowed to defer capital gains taxes if they plow their proceeds into several kinds of approved investments.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

“We don’t have any good deals. In fact, I’m trying to find a country where we actually have a surplus of trade as opposed to — everything is a deficit.”

Source: White House meeting with manufacturing CEOs

in fact: The U.S. has surpluses with more than half of all countries in merchandise trade, figures from the U.S. International Trade Commission show — and merchandise trade is a measure that doesn’t count the services trade at which the U.S. excels. Major countries with which the U.S. has a surplus in merchandise trade include Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands, Argentina, and the United Kingdom.

Trump has repeated this claim 21 times

“With Mexico, we have $70 billion in deficits, trade deficits, and it’s unsustainable. We’re not going to let it happen. Can’t let it happen. We’re going to have a good relationship with Mexico, I hope. And if we don’t, we don’t. But we can’t let that happen — $70 billion in trade deficits.”

Source: White House meeting with manufacturing CEOs

in fact: The US trade deficit with Mexico was $63 billion in 2016, U.S. government figures show, counting only trade in goods. It is always billions smaller when trade in services is included.

Trump has repeated this claim 34 times

“With China, we have close to a $500 billion trade deficit.”

Source: White House meeting with manufacturing CEOs

in fact: The U.S. trade deficit with China was $347 billion in 2016, U.S. government figures show, counting only trade in goods. It is always billions smaller when trade in services is included.

Trump has repeated this claim 51 times

 

Trump biography

Donald John Trump (June 14, 1946)

He is of German/Scottish origin. One of his German relatives was an Arnold Trumpf, b, 27 October 1892 in Gifhorn and died 7, January 1985 in Garmish-Partenkirchen. Trumpf was a member of the Nazi party number 389 920 from 1 December 1930. He was a member of the SS Race and Settlement Office as an SS-Oberführer

Trump was born and grew up in New York City. He received a degree in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Trump took over running his family’s real estate business in 1971, renamed it The Trump Organization, and expanded it to involve constructing and renovating skyscrapers, hotels, casinos, and golf courses. He also started various side ventures, including branding and licensing his name for real estate and luxury consumer products.

He managed the company until his 2017 inauguration as President of the United States.

Trump also gained prominence in the media and entertainment fields. He co-authored several books, and from 2003 to 2015 he was a producer and the host of The Apprentice, a reality television game show.

Trump owned the Miss Universe and Miss USA beauty pageants from 1996 to 2015. According to the American financial Forbes magazine, he was the world’s 544th richest person as of May 2017, with an estimated net worth of $3.5 billion.

In 1977, Trump married his first wife, Czech model Ivana Zelníčková. They had three children: Donald Jr. (b. 1977), Ivanka (b. 1981), and Eric (b. 1984). Ivana became a naturalized United States citizen in 1988. The couple divorced in 1992, following Trump’s affair with actress Marla Maples.

In October 1993, Maples gave birth to Trump’s daughter, who was named Tiffany after the upper-class Tiffany & Company. Maples and Trump were married two months later in December 1993. They divorced in 1999, and Tiffany was raised by Marla in California.

In 2005, Trump married his third wife, Slovenian model Melania Knauss, at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Palm Beach, Florida. Her original name was Melanija Knavs, born on April 26, 1970 at Novo Mesto, SR Slovenia, SFR Yugoslavia

In 2006, Melania became a United States citizen and gave birth to a son, March 20, 2006, Barron William Trump. Melania and Barron moved to the White House on June 11, 2017,

Trump has never filed for personal bankruptcy, but his hotel and casino businesses were declared bankrupt six times between 1991 and 2009 in order to re-negotiate debt with banks and owners of stock and bonds. Because the businesses used Chapter 11 bankruptcy, they were allowed to operate while negotiations proceeded.

Mr. Trump was quoted by Newsweek magazine in 2011 saying, “I do play with the bankruptcy laws – they’re very good for me” as a tool for trimming debt.

The six bankruptcies were the result of over-leveraged hotel and casino businesses in Atlantic City and New York: Trump Taj Mahal (1991), Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino (1992), Plaza Hotel (1992), Trump Castle Hotel and Casino (1992), Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts (2004), and Trump Entertainment Resorts (2009).

As president, Trump has frequently made false statements in public speeches and remarks. Trump uttered “at least one false or misleading claim per day on 91 of his first 99 days” in office according to The New York Times, and 1,318 total in his first 263 days in office. The Washington Post, also wrote, “President Trump is the most fact-challenged politician that The Fact Checker has ever encountered… the pace and volume of the president’s misstatements means that we cannot possibly keep up.”

Mr. Trump has a history of making racially-charged statements and taking actions perceived as racially motivated.

In 1975, Mr. Trump settled a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1973 alleging housing discrimination against black renters. In 1989, he was accused of racism for insisting that a group of black and Latino teenagers were guilty of raping a white woman in the Central Park jogger case even after they were exonerated by DNA evidence.

He continued to maintain this position as late as 2016.

Mr.Trump launched his 2016 presidential campaign with a speech in which he described Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists.

One of Mr.Trump’s campaign managers, Paul Manafort, had worked for several years to help pro-Russian politician Viktor Yanukovich win the Ukrainian presidency.

Other Trump associates, including former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn and political consultant Roger Stone, have been connected to Russian officials. Russian agents were overheard during the campaign saying they could use Manafort and Flynn to influence Trump.

Members of Mr.Trump’s campaign and later his White House staff, particularly Flynn, were in contact with Russian officials both before and after the November election In a December 29, 2016 conversation, Flynn and Kislyak discussed the recently imposed sanctions against Russia; Mr.Trump later fired Flynn for falsely claiming he had not discussed the sanctions.

Donald Trump has pursued business deals in Russia since 1987, and has sometimes traveled there to explore potential business opportunities. In 1996, Trump trademark applications were submitted for potential Russian real estate development deals. Mr.Trump’s partners and children have repeatedly visited Moscow, connecting with developers and government officials to explore joint venture opportunities. Mr.Trump was never able to successfully conclude any real estate deals in Russia. However, individual Russians have invested heavily in Trump properties, and following Mr.Trump’s bankruptcies in the 1990s he borrowed money from Russian sources. In 2008 his son Donald Trump Jr. said that Russia was an important source of money for the Trump businesses.

In 1996 Mr.Trump partnered with Liggett-Ducat, a small company, and planned to build an upscale residential development on a Liggett-Ducat property in Moscow. Trump commissioned New York architect Ted Liebman, who did the sketches.

In 1987 Mr.Trump visited Russia to investigate developing a hotel

In Russia, Mr.Trump promoted the proposal and acclaimed the Russian economic market. At a news conference reported by The Moscow Times, Mr.Trump said he hadn’t been “as impressed with the potential of a city as I have been with Moscow” in contrast to other cities had visited “all over the world.

By this time, Mr.Trump made known his desire to build in Moscow to government officials for almost ten years ranging from the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev (they first met in Washington in 1987) to the military figure Alexander Lebed.

Moscow’s mayor, Yuri M. Luzhkov, showed Trump plans for a very large shopping mall to be located underground in the vicinity of the Kremlin. The mayor complimented Mr.Trump’s suggestion that this mall should have access to the Moscow Metro, and it was eventually connected to the Okhotny Ryad station. Although the 1996 residential development did not happen, Mr.Trump was by this time well known in Russia.

Between 2000–2010, Mr.Trump entered into a partnership with a development company headquartered in New York represented by a Russian immigrant, Felix Sater. During this period, they partnered for an assortment of deals that included building Trump towers internationally and Russia was included. For example, in 2005 Slater acted as an agent for building a Trump tower alongside Moscow River with letters of intent in hand and “square footage was being analyzed.”

In 2006, Mr.Trump’s children Donald Jr. and Ivanka stayed in the Hotel National, Moscow for several days, across from the Kremlin, to interview prospective partners, with the intention of formulating real estate development projects.

Sater had also traveled to Moscow with Mr. Trump, his wife Ivanka and son Donald Jr.

Mr. Trump was associated with Tevfik Arif, formerly a Soviet commerce official and founder of a development company called the Bayrock Group, of which Sater was also a partner.

Bayrock searched for deals in Russia while Trump Towers company were attempting to further expand in the United States. Mr. Sater said, “We looked at some very, very large properties in Russia,” on the scale of “…a large Vegas high-rise.”

In 2007, Bayrock organized a potential deal in Moscow between Trump International Hotel and Russian investors

During 2006–2008 Mr.Trump’s company applied for a number of trademarks in Russia with the goal of real estate developments. These trademark applications include: Trump, Trump Tower, Trump International Hotel and Tower, and Trump Home.

In 2008, Mr. Trump spoke at a Manhattan real estate conference, stating that he really prefered Moscow over all cities in the world and that within 18 months he had been in Russia a half-dozen times.

Mr.Trump had received large and undisclosed payments over 10 years from Russians for hotel rooms, rounds of golf, or Trump-licensed products such as wine, ties, or mattresses, which would not have been identified as coming from Russian sources in the tax returns.

 

Trump turmoil latest: lawyer says Cohen has information regarding Russian conspiracy

Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s conviction and ex-lawyer Michael Cohen’s guilty plea plunge president into potential legal jeopardy

August 22, 2018

by Mattha Busby

The Guardian

Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s conviction and ex-lawyer Michael Cohen’s guilty plea plunge president into potential legal jeopardy

Trump: ‘I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family’

The president has followed up on his riposte towards Michael Cohen by expressing his regret that Paul Manafort, his former campaign chair, could face decades in jail.

He praises Manafort, who was convicted on eight of 18 charges – some of which were financial crimes that allowed him to fund a lavish lifestyle – and says how much he respects that he refused to cooperate with prosecutors in order to get a plea deal.

Elizabeth Warren, the high-profile Massachusetts Democrat senator, is attempting to build support for a new anti-corruption bill which she says would go after lobbying, state capture of regulatory agencies, and puts the onus on the judiciary to be more forthcoming and following a clearer set of ethical rules.

“Are the Saudis shovelling money into his pocket every time they take a floor at the Trump hotel?” she asks. “We don’t know! We know he didn’t divest himself of those businesses.”

There’s only one cure for the cancer of Trump’s presidency”, writes Jill Abramson, Guardian political columnist and former senior editor at the New York Times.

The walls have suddenly caved in on Donald Trump’s presidency. First came Michael Cohen’s stunning plea agreement, in which Trump’s longtime fixer and trusted legal gun admitted in a federal courtroom in Manhattan that he had committed crimes at the direction of the president. Then, in Alexandria, Virginia, Robert Mueller’s prosecution team notched a big win with the guilty verdict on eight counts reached by the jury against Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager.

The cure, as was true in Nixon’s time, may involve impeachment.

Trump’s flippant tweet has provoked a variety of responses with his old tweets pledging support for Cohen, along with his reactive, childlike manner being highlighted.

Holly Figueroa O’Reilly, the founder of a Democrat-supporting nonprofit, has unearthed one of Trump’s tweets from April 2018 where he admonished those who were “going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope he will “flip”.

Michael Cohen was Trump’s lawyer for 12 years and once said that he would take a bullet for Donald Trump.

Even prior to his appointment as the property moguls’s right-hand man he was quoted hyping up a Trump condo development in New Jersey.

“Trump properties are solid investments,” said Cohen, who by then had bought at least three.

Once he was in post, Cohen’s duties were both idiosyncratic and expansive, ranging from putting together foreign real estate deals to telling off reporters to buying the silence of women linked romantically to Trump, wrote Tom McCarthy, national affairs correspondent for Guardian US.

“If somebody does something Mr Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr Trump’s benefit,” Cohen told ABC News in 2011.

Cohen has information on a Russian conspiracy, says lawyer

Michael Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis has come out all guns blazing on a tour of the broadcast studios in the US today. He has reiterated the guilt of the president regarding the hush money paid to two women, and stressed his client possesses information about Russian interference that would be of interest to investigators.

He told MSNBC and Cohen knows information that would be of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller about a Russian conspiracy to “corrupt American democracy” and “a failure to report that knowledge to the FBI.”

In an interview on MSNBC, Davis says: “There is no dispute that Donald Trump committed a crime”

“The president of the United States directed him to commit a crime meaning the president committed the crime and covered it up because he didn’t sign the cheque to keep quiet the affairs with the two women,” Davis says, explaining what Cohen told the court under oath yesterday.

Cohen and his legal team are angling for a plea deal that would see any potential sentence reduced in exchange for information, and have released various files to corroborate their claims.

In an interview with NPR, Davis said: “Mr Cohen would never accept a pardon from a man that he considers to be both corrupt and a dangerous person in the Oval Office.”

Emphasising that not only is Cohen not hoping for a pardon from Donald Trump, which would exonerate him of any future charges, Davis said he would not accept one either.

Trump’s real estate company authorised paying $420,000 to lawyer Michael Cohen in his effort to silence women during the presidential campaign and then relied on “sham” invoices from Cohen that concealed the nature of the payments, the Washington Post reported, according to legal filings released Tuesday.

However, in an interview with CNN, Davis refused to say whether Cohen has spoken to Mueller’s team.

Scott Jennings, former special assistant to President George W. Bush and former campaign adviser to senator Mitch McConnell, has written an op-ed for CNN where he states: “I have no doubt that a House of Representatives under Democratic control will use the Cohen guilty plea, among other things, as grounds to impeach the President.”

The US mid-term elections will be held in November and if the Democrats manage to wrest control of the House, overturning the majority of 43 the Republicans currently hold, then they would be able to enact impeachment proceedings.

Donald Trump last night addressed a rally in West Virginia where he made no mention of Cohen or Manafort. However, prior to the ‘Make America Great Again’ event, he told reporters: “This has nothing to do with Russian collusion. These are witch hunts and it’s a disgrace.”

Despite his conviction on federal charges, Trump called Manafort a “good man”, adding: “He was with Ronald Reagan, he was with a lot of people.”

It has today been claimed that Manafort, whose work as a political consultant in Russia and Ukraine led to Wednesday’s conviction, worked more extensively in the former Soviet Union than was previously reported.

According to a report, Manafort and his fixer went to Kyrgyzstan and promoted Russian interests, including the closure of the US military base Manas, in 2005 in a trip funded by a Russian oligarch who was later sanctioned by the US over meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.

So what’s next for Trump’s embattled former advisors? Well, Michael Flynn’s sentencing has been repeatedly delayed and is now slated to be pushed back until September 17.

Paul Manafort faces additional charges in a separate case, to convene in Washington DC next month, and will be held in prison until that date. The 69-year old could be imprisoned for decades.

Michael Cohen is expected to be sentenced on December 12.

No date has yet been set for Rick Gates’ sentencing – with any jail time likely to be reduced depending on his level of cooperation with the investigation.

George Papadopolous is due to be sentenced on September 7 and special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, has recommended he receives a six month custodial term.

The pornographic film actor Stormy Daniels, whose whirlwind world tour has gripped the world as she seeks to cash in on her new-found fame, was combative in the early hours of this morning, tweeting: “How ya like me now?!” in apparent reference to the doubts that were cast upon her allegations regarding the hush money paid to her.

She has maintained that she and Trump had sex in 2006, and that the $130,000 (£95,650) paid to her during the 2016 presidential election campaign was hush money. Her lawyer said on Tuesday that they look forward to apologies “from the people who claimed we were wrong”

Trump has claimed such agreements are “very common among celebrities and people of wealth”. He tweeted: “In this case it is in full force and effect and will be used in arbitration for damages against Ms Clifford. The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair.”

Now, however, Cohen has claimed Trump directed him to make the payment – which violated campaign finance laws – in an effort to stop Stormy Daniels, the pornographic film actor, along with Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model, going public about the alleged extramarital affairs.

 

The inescapable weight of my $100,000 student debt

MH Miller left university with a journal full of musings on Virginia Woolf and a vast financial burden. He is one of 44 million US graduates struggling to repay a total of $1.4tn. Were they right to believe their education was ‘priceless’?

August 21, 2018

The Guardian

On Halloween in 2008, about six weeks after Lehman Brothers collapsed, my mother called me from Michigan to tell me that my father had lost his job in the sales department of Visteon, an auto parts supplier for Ford. Two months later, my mother lost her job working for the city of Troy, a suburb about half an hour from Detroit. From there our lives seemed to accelerate, the terrible events compounding fast enough to elude immediate understanding. By June, my parents, unable to find any work in the state where they spent their entire lives, moved to New York, where my sister and I were both in school. A month later, the mortgage on my childhood home went into default.After several months of unemployment, my mother got a job in New York City, fundraising for a children’s choir. In the summer of 2010, I completed my studies at New York University, where I received a BA and an MA in English literature, with more than $100,000 of debt, for which my father was a guarantor. My father was still unemployed and my mother had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She continued working, though her employer was clearly perturbed that she would have to take off every Friday for chemotherapy. To compensate for the lost time, on Mondays she rode early buses into the city from the Bronx, where, after months of harrowing uncertainty, my parents had settled. She wanted to be in the office first thing.

In January 2011, Chase Bank took full possession of the house in Michigan. Our last ties were severed by an email my father received from the realtor, who had tried and failed to sell the property, telling him he could now cancel the utilities. In May, I got a freelance contract with a newspaper that within a year would hire me full-time – paying me, after taxes, roughly $900 every two weeks. In September 2011, my parents were approved for bankruptcy, and in October, due to a paperwork error, their car was repossessed in the middle of the night by creditors. Meanwhile, the payments for my debt – which had been borrowed from a variety of federal and private lenders, most prominently Citibank – totalled about $1,100 a month.

Now 30, I have been incapacitated by debt for a decade. The delicate balancing act that my family and I perform in order to make a payment each month has become the organising principle of our lives. I am just one of 44 million borrowers in the US who owe a total of more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. This number is almost incomprehensibly high, and yet it continues to increase, with no sign of stopping. Legislation that might help families in financial hardship has failed in Congress. A bill introduced in May 2017, the Discharge Student Loans in Bankruptcy Act, which would undo changes made to the bankruptcy code in the early 2000s, stalled in committee. Despite all evidence that student loan debt is a national crisis, the majority of the US government – the only organisation with the power to resolve the problem – refuses to acknowledge its severity.

My debt was the result, in equal measure, of a chain of rotten luck and a system that is an abject failure by design. My parents never lived extravagantly. In the first years of their marriage, my father drove a cab. When they had children and my father started a career in the auto industry, we became firmly middle-class, never wanting for anything, even taking vacations once a year, to places like Myrtle Beach or Miami. Still, there was usually just enough money to cover the bills – car leases, a mortgage, groceries. My sister and I both attended public school. The cost of things was discussed constantly. In my freshman year of high school, I lost my yearbook, which cost $40; my mother very nearly wept. College, which cost roughly $50,000 a year, was the only time that money did not seem to matter. “We’ll find a way to pay for it,” my parents said repeatedly, and if we couldn’t pay for it immediately, there was always a bank willing to give us a loan. This was true even after my parents had both lost their jobs amid the global financial meltdown. Like many well-meaning but misguided baby boomers, neither of my parents received an elite education, but they nevertheless believed that an expensive school was not a waste of money; it was the key to a better life for their children. They continued to put faith in this falsehood even after a previously unimaginable financial loss, and so we continued spending money that we didn’t have – money that banks kept giving to us.

I have spent a great deal of time during the last decade shifting the blame for my debt. Whose fault was it? My devoted parents, for encouraging me to attend a school they couldn’t afford? The banks, which should have never lent money to people who clearly couldn’t pay it back to begin with, continuously exploiting the hope of families like mine, and quick to exploit us further once that hope disappeared? Or was it my fault for not having the foresight to realise it was a mistake to spend roughly $200,000 on a school where, in order to get my degree, I kept a journal about reading Virginia Woolf? (Sample passage, which assuredly blew my mind at the time: “We are interested in facts because we are interested in myth. We are interested in myth insofar as myth constructs facts.”) The problem, I think, runs deeper than blame. The foundational myth of an entire generation of Americans was the false promise that education was priceless – that its value was above or beyond its cost. College was not a right or a privilege, but an inevitability on the way to a meaningful adulthood. What an irony that the decisions I made about college when I was 17 have derailed such a goal.

After the dust settled on the collapse of the economy, on my family’s lives, we found ourselves in an impossible situation: we owed more each month than we could collectively pay. And so we wrote letters to Citibank’s mysterious PO box address in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, begging for help, letters that I doubt ever met a human being. We grew to accept Citibank as a detestable Moloch that we feared and hated, but were made to worship. The letters began to comprise a diary for my father in particular, a way to communicate a private anguish that he mostly bottled up, as if he was storing it for later. In one letter, addressed “Dear Citi,” he pleaded for a longer-term plan with lower monthly payments. He described how my mother’s mounting medical bills, as well as Chase Bank’s collection on our foreclosed home, had forced the family into bankruptcy, which provided no protection in the case of private student loans. We were not asking, in the end, for relief or forgiveness, but merely to pay them an amount we could still barely afford. “This is an appeal to Citi asking you to work with us on this loan,” he wrote to no one at all.

Finally, at the beginning of 2012, my father started writing to the office of Congressman Joseph Crowley, who represented the district in the Bronx where my parents had relocated. In one of these letters, he described watching Too Big to Fail, an HBO film about the financial crisis, which had come out several months earlier. (My parents lost every asset they had, but they still subscribed to HBO, which became more than TV for them – a symbolic relic of their former class status.)

The recession was over, officially anyway, and people who had not suffered its agonies were already profiting from its memory. Recession films often took place in the gleaming offices of hedge funds and investment banks, with attractive celebrities offering sympathetic portrayals of economists and bankers – Zachary Quinto, in 2011’s Margin Call, for instance, plays a rocket scientist turned risk analyst with a heart of gold, a do-gooder who discovers that his employer has leveraged itself to the edge of bankruptcy. These films often depicted figures who experienced little to no repercussions for their roles in leading the country into a recession, who abused the misfortune of people like my parents – unmentionables who owed more on their houses than what they had paid for them and, of course, rarely featured in the story at all.

My father described himself and my mother to Crowley as “the poster children for this entire financial event”, by which he meant Americans who seemed to have done everything right on paper, but in doing so contributed to their own downfall. By the time he wrote to Crowley, my father was working again, but it had taken him two years to find another job, which paid him much less money. After his run of financial calamity, he knew better than to believe anything good would last. “We are in our 60s and I figure when we get to our mid-70s life will become difficult again,” he wrote.

Crowley’s office wrote back. It was the first time in about two years that a person had responded to our correspondence with encouragement, or something like it. Someone who worked for his office in Washington helped to arrange a conference call with government liaisons from Citigroup to discuss a different payment plan. The monthly payments to Citi were then more than $800 a month, and we were trying to talk them into letting us pay the loan over a longer period, at a rate of about $400 a month. These terms were reasonable enough, but the response to this request was like an automated message brought to life: “We are precluded from a regulatory perspective from being able to do what you are asking,” each of the representatives said. What made these exchanges more ridiculous was the fact that Citibank was in the process of retreating from the student loan market by selling off my debt to Discover Financial, who would give us the same response. We were nothing to these companies but a number in a database. And they fully controlled our fates.

I used to wonder if the people who worked for these lenders had families of their own, and if they would ever find themselves bankrupt, wondering where they were going to live. Most of all, I wondered what they would do if their own children had to take out loans to pay for college. After 10 years of living with the fallout of my own decisions about my education, I have come to think of my debt as like an alcoholic relative from whom I am estranged, but who shows up to ruin happy occasions. But when I first got out of school and the reality of how much money I owed finally struck me, the debt was more of a constant and explicit preoccupation, a matter of life and death.

I had studied English because I wanted to be a writer. I never had an expectation of becoming rich. I didn’t care about money. My MA fed an intellectual curiosity that eventually led me to newspapers, and I don’t regret that my translation of The Dream of the Rood from Old English to contemporary vernacular was not a terribly marketable or even applicable skill. I understand now the extent to which I was among the most overeducated group of young adults in human history. Still, following completion of this degree, I enrolled for an evening class in French at New York’s Cooper Union, as that deferred my having to start paying off the debt, and the cost of the new class was cheaper than the monthly repayments I would have to make. Once I could no longer delay and the payments began, a question echoed through my head from the moment the day began, and often jolted me awake at night. I would look at the number on my paycheck and obsessively subtract my rent, the cost of a carton of eggs and a can of beans (my sustenance during the first lean year of this mess), and the price of a loan payment. The question was: What will you do when the money from the paycheck is gone?

I never arrived at an answer to this question. At my lowest points, I began fantasising about dying, not because I was suicidal, but because death would have meant relief from having to come up with an answer. My life, I felt, had been assigned a monetary value – I knew what I was worth, and I couldn’t afford it, so all the better to cash out early. The debt was mind-controlling – how I would eat or pay my rent without defaulting was a constant refrain, and I had long since abandoned any hope of a future in which I might have a meaningful line of credit or a disposable income, or even simply own something – but it was also mind-numbingly banal. I spent a great deal of time filling out paperwork over and over again, or waiting on hold for extended periods in order to speak to a robotic voice that would reject my request. It didn’t matter what the request was or who I was asking. It was always rejected.

And so it felt good to think about dying, in the way that it felt good to take a long nap in order to not be conscious for a while. These thoughts culminated in November 2010, when I met with my father one afternoon at a diner in Brooklyn to retrieve more paperwork. My hope for some forgiving demise had resulted in my being viciously sick for about 10 days, with what turned out to be strep throat. I refused to go to the doctor in the hope that my condition might worsen into a more serious infection that, even if it didn’t kill me, might force someone to at last lavish me with pity. I coughed up a not insignificant portion of yellowish fluid before my father and I entered the restaurant. We sat at a table, and I frowned at the forms he handed me. I started the conversation by asking, “Theoretically, if I were to, say, kill myself, what would happen to the debt?”

“I would have to pay it myself,” my father said, in the same tone he would use a few minutes later to order eggs. He paused and then offered me a melancholy smile, which I sensed had caused him great strain. “Listen, it’s just debt,” he said. “No one is dying from this.”

My father had suffered in the previous two years. In a matter of months, he had lost everything he had worked most of his adult life to achieve – first his career, then his home, then his dignity. He had become a 60-year-old man who had quite reluctantly shaved his greying, 40-year-old mustache in order to look younger, shuffling between failed job interviews where he was often told he had “too much experience”. He was ultimately forced out of the life he’d known, dragging with him, like some 21-first-century Pa Joad, a U-Haul trailer crammed with family possessions, including, at the insistence of my mother, large plastic tubs of my childhood action figures.

Throughout this misery, my father had reacted with what I suddenly realised was stoicism, but which I had long mistaken for indifference. This misunderstanding was due in part to my mother, whom my father mercifully hadn’t lost, and who had suffered perhaps most of all. Not that it was a competition, but if it were, I think she would have taken some small amount of satisfaction in winning it. The loss of home and finances felt at least like a worthy opponent for cancer, and yet here was my father telling me that none of this was the end of the world. I felt a flood of sympathy for him. I was ashamed of my selfishness. The lump in my throat began to feel less infectious than lachrymal. “OK,” I said to him, and that was that. When I got home I scheduled an appointment with a doctor.

Much of the dilemma about being in debt came down to numbers that I could only comprehend in the abstract. There was $38,840 at 2.25% interest, and a notice that in May 2016 the interest would increase to 2.5%. And a $25,000 loan at 7.5%, to which my family and I had contributed, over the course of three years, $12,531.12 and on which I now owed $25,933.66. More than what I started out with. I memorised – or, more often, didn’t – seemingly crucial details about my debt that turned out to be comically meaningless: a low-interest loan from Perkins was serviced by a company called ACS, which had rebranded to Conduent Education and sent out notices with their new logo and the message “Soon to be Conduent.” Citibank, referring to itself as “Citibank, N.A. (Citibank),” transferred the servicing of my loans to Firstmark, and I had to create an account with them. Student loan firm Sallie Mae’s lending arm span off into an independent company called Navient. In 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Navient, alleging that it “systematically and illegally [failed] borrowers at every stage of repayment”.

Navient released a public statement in reponse to that suit, which said: “There is no expectation that the servicer will act in the interest of the consumer.” When I received a notice from Navient in February 2017 that my monthly payments would be increasing, for reasons I did not comprehend, the email came with a note at the bottom saying: “We’re here to help: We’re happy to help you navigate your options, provide you with resources, and answer any questions you have as you repay your loans.” The company’s motto is, hilariously, “Solutions for your success”.

These announcements flooded my inbox with subject lines declaring “Important Information”, but none of them altered my fate. Sometimes the monthly payments would go up, sometimes my salary would go up, sometimes I made a cheque out to a different company. The only stable thing was the money I owed, which never seemed to get any lower. And so the cash would go out to the various lenders with the blind hope that it was right. On top of all that was a dreadful anticipation that any day now I might hear from the credit bureau and my life would somehow bottom out.

In some twisted way, I wanted it to happen. My mother’s cancer went into remission, and both of my parents found, in their 60s, new careers in New York. I maintained steady employment in journalism since finishing school, and in 2016 I was hired as an editor at the New York Times. Was it possible we had become lucky? I had spent so much time wondering what life’s nadir looked like that I was now curious whether it had already come and gone.

In the summer of 2017, my father, now nearing 70, had lost another job, so I finally removed him as a guarantor and refinanced my loans with one of the few companies that provides such a service, SoFi. My wife, who agreed to marry me last autumn, would help with the payments when she could. Sharing the burden of my debt with my spouse instead of my parents was a small, depressing victory, a milestone perhaps unique to members of my generation, one that must have carried the same kind of significance that purchasing a home and having a mortgage had to my parents.

SoFi has not made my situation much more tenable. The main difference is that I now write one cheque instead of several, and I have an end date for when the debt, including the calculated interest – about $182,000 – will be paid off: 2032, when I’ll be 44, a number that feels only slightly less theoretical to me than 30 did when I was 17. What I have to pay each month is still, for the most part, more than I am able to afford, and it has kept me in a state of perpetual childishness. I rely on the help of people I love, and I live by each paycheck. I still harbour anxiety about the bad things that could befall me should the paycheck disappear.

But the “Important Information” I receive has changed. SoFi is a Silicon Valley startup that bills itself as “a new kind of finance company”; its name is shorthand for Social Finance, Inc. In addition to loans, it offers membership outreach in the form of financial literacy workshops and free dinners. Their aim is to “empower our members” – a mission that was called into question by the resignation, in September 2017, of its CEO, Mike Cagney, who employees allege had engaged in serial workplace sexual harassment and who ran the office, according to a New York Times headline, like “a frat house.” The allegations, according to a report in the Times, include Cagney exchanging explicit text messages with employees, bragging about the size of his genitalia, and the company’s chief financial officer offering bonuses to female employees if they lost weight. In January, SoFi hired Anthony Noto, formerly of Twitter, as Cagney’s replacement.

SoFi has also received criticism for its elitism, and for courting only wealthy, high-earning borrowers – to which I can only say this is a category with which I do not personally identify, especially after writing the check to SoFi each month. The news ahout Cagney came out not long after I refinanced my loans with the company – I became, I suppose, a SoFi’er, in the company’s parlance. Around the same time, I started receiving curious emails from them: “You’re Invited: 2 NYC Singles Events” or “Come Celebrate Pride with us!”

“Dear NYC SoFi’er,” one of these emails read, “Grab a single friend and join us for a fun night at Rare View Rooftop Bar and Lounge in Murray Hill! You’ll mingle with some of our most interesting (and available!) members… ” The invitation cited a statistic that promised “86% of members at other SoFi Singles events said they met someone they want to see again”.

I will reiterate that I am a 30-year-old married man with more than $100,000 of debt, who makes less each year than what he owes. Buying a pair of trousers is a major financial decision for me. I do not think myself eligible in any sense of the word, nor do I find my debt to be amusing merely on a conversational level.

Still, I felt as if in 10 years, the debt hadn’t changed, but the world had, or at least the world’s view of it. This thing, this 21st-century blight that had been the source of great ruin and sadness for my family, was now so normal – so basic – that it had been co-opted by the wellness industry of Silicon Valley. My debt was now approachable, a way to meet people. It was, in other words, an investment in my future, which is why I had gone into debt in the first place. Would SoFi be this friendly if I lost my job and missed a monthly payment?

Let’s say I was morbidly intrigued. The day after Valentine’s Day, I went to a Mexican restaurant in the financial district for a SoFi community dinner – this was not a singles event, but simply a free meal. There had been another of these dinners near my apartment the week before, but it had, to my surprise, quickly sold out. The restaurant was packed with an after-work crowd in business attire, and SoFi had rented out the back room, where a few dozen people had gathered, all wearing name tags and discussing financial woes. Sid, a software developer from Queens who had racked up credit card debt after college, told me that the debt was a unifying force at these gatherings. “When there’s a break in the conversation, someone can just say, ‘So, debt, huh?’ and things will get going again,” he said. “If we walked outside of this room,” he continued, gesturing to the suits by the bar, “everyone out there would have debt, too. It’s just a little more out in the open for us.”

Despite the name tags, the dinner turned out to resemble something more like an AA meeting, an earnest session of group therapy. Everyone had their story about the problems caused by their student loans and how they were trying, one day at a time, to improve things, and no story was exceptional, including my own. Ian, an employee for Google who had recently successfully paid off his debt from a Columbia MBA programme, became something like my sponsor for the evening. He said he had a few “bone dry” years, when he lived on instant noodles. I told him I had a long way to go. “At least you’re doing something about it,” he said, sincerely.

We sat down to dinner. Across from me was Mira, a defence attorney from Brooklyn, who attended law school at Stanford. Her payments amount to $2,300 a month, more than double my own. When I asked her why she came to this event, she glanced at me as if the answer should have been obvious: her payments are $2,300 a month. The table, myself included, looked on her with an odd reverence. She wore a business suit and had her hair pulled back, but I saw her as something like the sage and weathered biker of the group, talking in her wisdom about accepting the things you cannot change.

After the food was served, a waiter came by with a stack of to-go boxes, which sat on the edge of the table untouched for a while as everyone cautiously eyed them. The group was reluctant at first, but then Ian said, “The chicken was actually pretty good,” as he scooped it into one of the boxes. Mira shrugged, took a fork, and said: “This is a little tacky, but I’d hate to waste free food,” and the rest of the table followed her lead. Maybe the next generation would do better, but I felt like we were broke and broken. No number of degrees or professional successes would put us back together again. For now, though, we knew where our next meal was coming from.

This article first appeared in the current issue of the Baffler

 

 

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