Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Toilets and Texas

Ms. Twye was soaping her breasts in her bath
When she heard behind her a meaning laugh
And to her amazement she discovered
A wicked man in the bathroom cupboard.
—Gavin Ewart, Miss Twye

Given all the craziness that comes out of Trump’s Washington, it is helpful to be reminded, from time to time, that craziness can come from other places-like Texas. Hence this only slightly phantasmagorical tale.

Once upon a short time in the future, in 2017, there lived in Texas, a twelve-year-old girl by the name of Josephina. 2017 was the year that Sen.Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, Texas, drafted what was known as Senate Bill 6 (S.B.6) and introduced it in the Texas legislature. It is a Bill “relating to regulations and policies for entering or using a bathroom or changing facility. . . .” As of this writing, S.B. 6 has not been passed, but for our purposes and, Texas being Texas, S.B. 6 will be treated as passed. S.B.6 said the quoted words refer to a place where a person might be in a state of undress and included a “restroom, locker room, changing room, or shower room.” S.B.6 seems to include all schools and public buildings with bathrooms or changing rooms. It provides that those buildings must have a policy that their facilities can be used “only by persons based on the persons’ biological sex” that being the sex “which is stated on a person’s birth certificate.” S.B. 6 has many other provisions but those are the pertinent ones for this tale.

One day when Josephina was celebrating her 12th birthday, she announced to her parents that she wanted to lose her “ina”, those being the last three letters in her name, (that quite by coincidence rhymed with a part of her she no longer wanted to be identified with) and, henceforth, wanted to be known only as “Joseph.”

Josephina’s parents were understanding and went with her to buy a new wardrobe of boy’s clothes. When Josephina was dressed in her new clothes it was obvious that she had abandoned her “ina” and looked for all the world a boy. The parents advised the school that in the future Josephina was to be addressed as “Joseph” or “Joe” and that, for all purposes, she was to be considered a boy. The school officials were accommodating, but explained that they did not have a single stall bathroom and Joseph would have to continue using the girl’s locker room for changing clothes or, when going to the bathroom. School officials further explained that they could not make an exception to the requirement that Joe use the girls’ facilities, because of S.B. 6. They also said that, in addition to S.B. 6, they had heard a rumor that legislators would probably enact another bill creating something called the TSA (Toilet Security Administration) although that, they emphasized, was only a rumor. The school officials explained that from rumors it had heard, in front of every restroom and changing room in every building subject to S.B. 6, there will be a TSA official to inspect the birth certificates of anyone seeking to enter the facility, irrespective of a person’s physical appearance or attire.

Pursuant to the rumored TSA law (which, I again emphasize, has not been introduced in the Texas legislature but, Texas being Texas, may be as soon as someone in the legislature thinks of it) a person without a birth certificate will be taken to a private room where the private parts of the person seeking entry can be inspected by a gender neutral inspector, to ensure that the person entering the facility is of the sex appropriate to use of the facility the person seeks to enter, irrespective of what the person’s appearance would otherwise suggest

S.B. 6 is going to make toilets in Texas among the most interesting places in Texas to visit. When Joseph gets to be an adult he hopes to enter one of the professions where men wear coats and ties. If he is attending a meeting in a building subject to S.B. 6 where he is not known to the TSA agents, and needs to use the toilet facilities, he will, upon presenting his birth certificate, be sent into the women’s toilet where some of the women, having not had the benefit of seeing his birth certificate, will mistakenly assume that he is a man and has no business being in their bathroom even though he enters a stall with a door and locks it. The less secure among the women may actually scream, thus causing security officers to come rushing in to prevent what is, presumably, some sort of assault perpetrated by Joe.

In addition, to the clothes Joseph’s parents bought for him, for his 16th birthday they gave him money so that he could have transgender surgery and acquire all the physical attributes that boys born boys have. Should Joe get into a hot tub in a women’s locker room where the custom is to wear no suit, there may also be exclamations of dismay that will not be quieted even if Joe presents the other bathers his birth certificate.

This column offers just a few examples of what will happen under S.B. 6. Since it is only about the issues that Joseph will confront, there is no discussion of what happens when a boy named Paul follows Joseph’s path in reverse. Such a column would be called: “The Perils of Paulina.”

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Trump, Tillerson, and Elliott Abrams

Adopt the character of the twisting octopus, which takes on the appearance of the nearby rock. Now follow in this direction, now turn a different hue. —Therognis, Elegies

Here’s the score: DJT 1, Rex Tillerson 0. It would, of course, have been consistent with the calibre of other DJT appointees to have the flawed Elliott Abrams back in government. He would have fit in beautifully. But for those who hoped for at least a few people of moral character to be appointed to the DJT administration, it was, at first blush, reassuring that in the DJT-Tillerson contest, DJT won. It seemed that at long last (insofar as 4 weeks can be considered “long”) the integrity of a candidate that was selected to join the DJT administration mattered. And the rejection of a candidate like Elliott who, the casual observer might rightfully have thought, was rejected because of his flawed character, would have been welcome news coming just as Mike Flynn, another man of deeply flawed character, was being expelled. And Mike was an example of a REALLY bad appointment.

According to Politico, in the three months preceding the election, Mike had forwarded Twitter posts that, among other things, accused Hillary Clinton of being involved in money laundering, sex crimes involving children, and of having “secretly waged war on the Catholic Church.” Mike’s use of the internet to propagate lies about DJT’s opponent was, so far as DJT was concerned, no reason to not appoint him National Security Advisor. It never occurred to DJT that someone he appointed of such infirm moral character might, Judas-like, turn on the very man who appointed him within a matter of days after being appointed. That, of course, is exactly what Mike did when he caused the vice president of the United States to lie to the American people because Mike had lied to the vice president. As a result, when the lies became public knowledge, which was several days after DJT had learned of them, DJT got rid of Mike. Those who wondered why a chronic liar had been appointed in the first place, thought that that experience might have been a wake up moment for DJT, and that he would try, in the future, to avoid appointing those with known character flaws to high positions in his muddled administration. Enter Rex Tillerson and Elliott Abrams.

Rex Tillerson is the Secretary of State and a man uniquely unqualified to serve in that position because of his lack of experience. Recognizing his own limitations, he recommended to DJT that Elliott Abrams, a man with considerable state department experience, be made his Deputy Secretary of State. Mr. Tillerson believed that having a seasoned foreign policy professional beside him, even one lacking in moral character, would serve him in good stead. And Elliott had plenty in his background to demonstrate a lack of moral fiber.

In 1991 Elliott entered a plea of guilty to two criminal charges in connection with the criminal enterprise known as the Iran-Contra affair that took place under the Reagan administration. He pled guilty to the charge of withholding evidence from Congress and was sentenced to probation for two years and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. In 1997, Elliott was publicly censured by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals for having given false testimony before congressional committees on three different occasions relating to his activities in connection with the Iran Contra affair.

One might have thought that in considering Mr. Tillerson’s request that Elliott be appointed, DJT would have concluded that with those kinds of blemishes, DJT did not need to add to the stable of incompetents and moral cripples that he had already appointed to high positions in his administration, by selecting a flawed Elliott Abrams to be Deputy Secretary of State. Had he refused to appoint him and cited those reasons in support of his decision, the people would have understood and applauded him for at long last applying strict moral standards in determining whether a proposed appointee had the qualification one might hope for in an appointee to a high governmental post. It was an exciting prospect.

The interviews with Tillerson, DJT, and Abrams, reportedly went smoothly. Then a funny thing happened, and Elliott was not appointed. The failure to appoint him had nothing to do with Elliott’s ethical infirmities as one might have hoped. It happened because it was brought to DJT’s attention that Elliott had written unfavorably about DJT prior to the election. In one piece he wrote: “Do not allow the Republican convention to be a coronation wherein Trump and Trumpisms are unchallenged. The party needs to be reminded that there are deep divisions, and Trump needs to be reminded of how many in the party oppose and even fear his nomination.” In a column for the Weekly Standard” Elliott described DJT as “someone who cannot win and should not be president of the United States.” When DJT was informed of Elliott’s published comments, those comments reportedly caused DJT to reject Mr. Tillerson’s request that Elliott be named the Deputy Secretary of State. The rejection had nothing to do with Abrams’ character. It was all about DJT’s ego. A good result for the wrong reason. Sort of sad. Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Trump and Taxes

Entrepreneurial profit . . . is the expression of the value of what the entrepreneur contributes to production . . ..
&38212; Joseph Alois Schumpeter, The Theory of Economic Development (1934)

Just as DJT began to calculate how much money he earned running for president, he used the speech he gave at the National Prayer Breakfast as a vehicle to announce a proposed dramatic change in tax law. If adopted by Congress, it will change the tax laws pertaining to the deductibility of charitable contributions in a way that will benefit those who contribute to political campaigns but presently derive no tax benefits from doing so. But first, a brief reprise of how DJT fulfilled a prophecy he made in April 2000, converting a run for the presidency into an enormous money maker for him and his companies.

In April 2000, DJT had an interview with Jerry Useem of Fortune magazine on board DJT’s airplane, as he was heading off to a meeting to discuss the possibility of running for president on the Reform Party Ticket,with campaign stops on the way. In the course of the interview, DJT said that he was giving ten motivational speeches for which he was paid $1 million and, happily, each speech coincided with a campaign stop. As a result, he could use campaign contributions to pay his company for his plane ride in a company owned plane. The company pocketed the proceeds, and DJT pocketed the profits. Contemplating this strategy while talking with Mr. Useem, DJT said that: “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.” Sixteen years later he did and did.

According to a report compiled by CNN, DJT’s campaign paid $12.5 million to DJT businesses during his presidential run. It paid $8.7 million to one of the companies that owns the aircraft DJT flitted about in while campaigning. It paid hotels and golf clubs in which DJT stayed, $1.4 million. It paid $238,000 for restaurant and food service and even paid a DJT owned bottled water company $2,085 for water DJT and his staff drank while travelling. DJT could not, legally, have taken campaign funds and simply pocketed them, so this protocol was clearly the next best thing. Campaign funds went to entities owned in whole or in part by him and he pocketed his share of the profits.

DJT is a sensitive man, and recognized how unfair it was that, whereas his campaign was a money maker for him personally, there were no tangible financial benefits for those people who contributed money to help him get elected. Accordingly, one of the first things DJT did after he was elected, was to propose a change to the tax laws that would help future contributors to political campaigns derive tax benefits from their generosity. It comes from getting rid of something known as the “Johnson Amendment.”

The Johnson Amendment was sponsored by Lyndon Johnson when he was in the Senate in the 1950s. The IRS regulations issued pursuant to the Johnson Amendment, prohibit 501©(3) organizations (which include churches and other religious and charitable entities) from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” Although the prohibition has reportedly not been vigorously enforced by the IRS, it has nonetheless been effective in keeping 501©(3) organizations from endorsing candidates or becoming involved in partisan activity.

DJT took advantage of his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast (at which he digressed enough from matters ecumenical to mock Arnold Schwarzenegger who succeeded him as the host on the TV show DJT formerly hosted) to say that: “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.”

If the Johnson Amendment is “totally destroyed” or, as the vernacular would have it, “repealed”, churches will be free to become actively involved in politics of all stripes. And when that happens, people who have been making millions of dollars in contributions to political campaigns and causes without receiving any tax benefits, will be able to make those same contributions to the religious organizations of their choice, and claim a charitable contribution for tax purposes. The religious organization will then be able to direct those funds to the candidates or causes that the donor favors. It is a win-win for all concerned.

If the Johnson amendment had been repealed before the last election, tax deductible political contributions could have been made by DJT supporters to churches, and the churches would have been able to pay the money to political organizations that supported DJT, and the political organizations would have been able to pay the money to DJT companies for services rendered, and the DJT companies would have earned profits from services rendered to the campaign, and the DJT companies would have paid the profits to DJT. It would have been a win-win for all concerned-except the electorate. Of course, even without the Johnson Amendment being repealed, DJT made money from running for president-just as he promised in his 2000 interview. So sad.