All posts by Thomas L. Knapp

Fire and Fury: A Tale of Two Trump Lawsuits

Two days before Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States, a former contestant on his reality TV Show, The Apprentice, sued him for defamation. At issue was his public response to her allegations of unwanted kisses and forceful gropes. He had caller her a “liar” and claimed she was motivated by greed and/or politics.

Now the shoe’s on the other foot: Trump is threatening to sue publisher Henry Holt and Co. if they release a new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff. He claims that the book contains falsehoods that “give rise to claims for libel” and demands that Holt “immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination of the book, the article, or any excerpts or summaries of either of them [and] … issue a full and complete retraction and apology …”

Go pound sand, the publisher replied, and moved the release date up from January 9 to January 5.

While I’m sure that the juicy details of both cases are very interesting, it’s not those details that I’m concerned with.  What’s bothering me is a noticeable shift in Trump’s priorities.

In early December, Trump’s lawyers argued in court that he was just too busy and that his job was just too important for him to be dragged into court by a mere reality show contestant. He was arguably immune while in office, they said. The case should be put off until (hopefully) 2025.

“The president is the person who runs the executive branch,” his attorney, Marc Kasowitz, claimed. “He needs to be available 24/7.”

Summer Zervos’s attorney, Gloria Allred, countered that “we can take a deposition down to Mar-a-Lago in between him going to play golf.” Then everyone had a good laugh and I don’t recall hearing about it since.

OK, so maybe Donald Trump is too busy and too important to be sued. Maybe he needs to be available to be president 24/7. And maybe we should even cut him some slack on the golf outings and other escapes from the White House on the assumption that they are “working vacations.”

But inquiring minds want to know: If he’s too busy and important to be sued, how can it be that he has the free time, the undiverted attention span, and the scratchable itch to to go around threatening to sue others?

No sues for the goose, no sues for the gander, I say.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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News Flash for Jack Lew: The US Government is Already Broke

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Former US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is bothered by the recently passed “tax reform” package, The Hill reports. His problem? It is “leaving us broke.” “How,” he wonders, “are we going to pay for the deficit caused by the tax cut?”

Lew headed the Treasury Department under US president Barack Obama, from early 2013 until the inauguration of Donald Trump last January. This means he would have been involved in budgeting for 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

I don’t recall Lew complaining, at least in those terms, about 2014’s $485 billion deficit. Or 2015’s $438 billion deficit. Or 2016’s $585 billion deficit. Or 2017’s $666 billion deficit. That’s more than $2 trillion added to the national debt — more than one tenth of the debt as accrued over more than 200 years, in just four years with Jack Lew running the federal cash register. In fact, I distinctly recall Jack Lew raising the roof every time Congress hesitated for even a minute before  voting increases in his borrowing power.

As I write this, the national debt stands at more than $20.5 trillion, and per the president’s 2018 budget request, the US government continues to spend money at a rate of about $7.8 million per minute, 24 hours a day, seven days a week — about $850,000 more dollars per minute than it raises with taxes.

When Jack Lew refers to “us” and “we,” he  wants every American to assume responsibility for a “fair share” of that debt. Currently, such a share would come to nearly $63,000 per US citizen.

But “we” didn’t borrow that money. A few hundred politicians did. Yes, they claim that “we” are their co-signers.  But I don’t recall offering to cover their bar tabs. Do you?

As far as “broke” is concerned, the US government hit that point, and then some, long ago. It is bankrupt. Its accrued debt is greater than the US GDP. That is, the US government owes more money than is produced in goods and services in the US in an entire year. If every last one of us was taxed at 100%, it wouldn’t pay off that debt.

Nobody of sound mind expects the debt to ever be paid off. The holders of US government bonds are those who hope to make a killing before the carriage turns back into a pumpkin and (to mix metaphors) to find a chair just before the music stops. They just want the US government to take as much as it can, for as long as it can, out of our hides before the scheme collapses and the United States becomes Greece.

Vis a vis “paying for the deficit caused by the tax cut,” Mr. Lew, the answer is simple: Reduce spending to match revenues, just like every responsible household in the country does. No, that isn’t going to happen. Politicians of Mr. Lew’s party and Mr. Trump’s party are going to continue maxing out the credit card until it starts getting declined.

A time will come when the politicians repudiate the debt. And the time is long past for us to repudiate the politicians.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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US Foreign Aid: Bad for America, Bad for the World

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Ahead of a vote in the United Nations’ General Assembly on a resolution condemning US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,  president Donald Trump and UN ambassador Nikki Haley threatened states voting for the resolution with the loss of US financial aid. “We’re watching those votes” said Trump. “Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot. We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they’re doing.”

A good call on Trump’s part. Now it’s time to follow through. Not because the US lost the UN vote, but because US foreign aid is an inherently disastrous budget item that needs to go. Trump seems to understand that. This is an issue he’s already begun to address with his 2018 budget proposal, which if adopted as written would have cut the US foreign aid budget from $30 billion to $25 billion per year. The more quickly that number moves toward $0, the better for America and the better for recipients of largess from the American government.

Supporters of foreign aid love to point out that it constitutes less than 1% of the federal budget. True, but that 1% comes with lots of strings attached for both parties.

When the US government throws money at another country’s government, it instantly becomes entangled in that country’s problems — internal and external, economic and military, every problem of every sort. For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction — when America tries to be the good guy for Country A,  America also ends up being the bad guy for Country B, and/or for domestic opponents of Country A’s political establishment. The potential negative consequences of such entanglements include, but aren’t limited to, terrorism and war.

On the receiving side, well, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Washington wants things for its money — things ranging from support for its military adventures to distortions on the recipients’ economies imposed through politics for the benefit of this or that set of corporate cronies. In many cases, the lunch is not just un-free, but insanely over-priced.

Even at current levels, the US foreign aid budget comes to less than $100 per year per American*. That’s not an argument for keeping it. It’s an argument for leaving foreign aid to the private charitable “market.” Americans spend ten times as much on coffee each year!

If you or I want to “support Israel” or “donate to Kenya” or “fight starvation in India,” we can easily afford to do so in like or greater amounts than the federal government does, individually or as members of voluntary organizations, and without those terrible strings attached.

  • In the original version of this column, my math skills failed me and I somehow came up with $10, rather than the correct $100, per capita estimate. Thanks to commenter “supremeborg” at Antiwar.com for pointing out my error.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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