Jumping the Shark

You’d have to visit my other blog to know it, but I’m an electric vehicle enthusiast, having driven an EV since 2016. This post is not about alleged cognitive decline in Donald Trump. Trump was a birther in 2011, and you can’t decline much lower than that. What Trump said in Los Vegas to a crowd seriously in danger of heat prostration started:

So we have a country that’s in trouble. We’re going to end the mandate on electric one day.

And he went on to elaborate with a fanciful short ramble about an imaginary trip in an electric boat ending in disaster and the existential dilemma of whether it’s better to be electrocuted by a boat or eaten by a shark. My response is more about the policy implications of what Trump said than about cognitive decline. Either way, Trump is clueless, saying essentially that:

  • Electric boats don’t go very far.
  • If the battery dies, the boat sinks because they are very heavy.
  • If you stand on a sinking electric boat you will be electrocuted.

I like the road trip videos of Norwegian YouTuber Bjørn Nyland, that include his electric car being carried on electric ferry boats.

The battery is rather heavy in order to power a boat that carries 120 cars plus 360 passengers.

Ferries go slowly, but not so much the Voltari 260 electric speedboat, with a top speed of 60 mph and the ability to pace a swimmer for 14 hours on a charge.

Manufacturer product photo

Of course the electrocution idea is nonsense. The US Navy has submarines that run on batteries.

The risk to America is a president who thinks he knows something, when he is abysmally ignorant. If Trump prefers electrocution to being eaten by a shark, I won’t attempt to stand in his way.

The Smoking Bank Statement

The Trump “hush money” trial went on for 4 weeks, but in my mind, the entire case can be decided on one single piece of evidence, a bank statement presented in a meeting by Michael Cohen to the Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump. It was a request for reimbursement. The document following was described and presented to the jury.

Two separate witnesses identified the handwriting lower left as that of Weisselberg. The bank statement itself shows a $130,000 wire transfer from Michael Cohen to Keith M Davidson Associates PLC. Davidson was the attorney for Stormy Daniels and testified that Cohen paid him the money. So this bank statement is unquestionably the record of the payment for the NDA. It can’t be anything else.

Now let’s turn to a remark by Defense attorney Todd Blanche, in his opening statement:

But, think for a moment of what the People just told you. President Trump did not pay Mr. Cohen back $130,000. President Trump paid Michael Cohen $420,000.

And in the same breath, the People told you that President Trump is known as a frugal businessman, that he pinches pennies.

Ask yourself: Would a frugal businessman, would a man who pinches pennies repay $130,000 debt to the tune of $420,000?

The bank statement with Weisselberg’s handwritten notes is the NDA payment. So armed with the knowledge that Cohen really was paid $420,000 for a $130,000 reimbursement, we explore Mr. Blanche’s question.

The notation on the right side was written by Cohen his reimbursement request: $130,000 for the NDA, $35 for the wire transfer, and $50,000 in reimbursement for some IT services from a company called Red Finch. The total reimbursement was $180,000, the top line in Weisselberg’s accounting. The next line is “Grossed up to $360,000” which according to testimony meant that it was increased to pay Cohen back for the income tax he would owe on legal fees (but he wouldn’t owe on a reimbursement). Cohen was in the 50% tax bracket so $360,000 in legal fees would cost him $180,000 in taxes, leaving $180,000 for the reimbursement. Finally $60,000 is added (not grossed up because it’s real income) as Cohen’s annual bonus. Total: $420,000.

Cohen testified that he had a second meeting with Donald Trump and Weisselberg to go over the arrangement.

So let’s return to Blanche’s question:

Would a frugal businessman, would a man who pinches pennies repay $130,000 debt to the tune of $420,000?

And the answer is that he wouldn’t unless he got something in return.

Trump didn’t want company records to accurately reflect what was an in-kind federal election expenditure that by law Trump would have had to report to the FEC (including the ultimate recipient) where it would go into its public data base to be found by ProPublica or some other enterprising new organization.

On this one piece of paper, we have:

  1. Proof that the payments were reimbursements from Trump to Cohen for the Stormy Daniels NDA.
  2. Proof that the reimbursements were made to appear as legal fees rather than reimbursements at an extra cost of $180,000 to Trump..
  3. Proof that the business records were intentionally falsified (legal expenses rather than reimbursements).
  4. An inescapable conclusion that the purpose of the falsification was to hide the payment from the public in violation of campaign finance law
  5. And just as a bonus, it’s also tax fraud because the legal fees were deductible from the income of Donald Trump, but campaign donations were not.

Would a frugal businessman, would a man who pinches pennies repay $130,000 debt to the tune of $420,000 and not know what it was for? No, he would not — beyond a reasonable doubt.


I’ve been reading further through court transcripts and I see Trump’s lead counsel Todd Blanche repeating the claim that there was no reimbursement to Cohen for the NDA. How can he say that?

The Temptation of Trump

After the 71st violation of his gag order, Justice Juan Merchan sentenced Donald Trump to 30 days in jail on Rikers Island. Rikers is not a nice place and Trump couldn’t stand the food. As time wore on he was famished. Then the Devil appeared to Trump and said: “You’re the rightful President of the United States. Why are you putting up with this? With me by your side you can do anything! Just say the word and turn that disgusting food into a gourmet loaf of bread.” Trump said, “you’ll have to do better than that.” The Devil said, “try it.” Trump glowered at the disgusting food and shouted, “be a Big Mac and a Diet Coke!” and in an instant it was so. Trump said, “you have my attention.”

The Devil pulled out a video projector and flashed on the cell wall images of all the luxury hotels and golf courses in the world. “All of this and more will be yours if you will just follow my lead.” Trump wasn’t quite persuaded. “I want a solid gold toilet too.” “Done!” the Devil said.

The Devil then took Trump to the top of the Capitol Dome and said, “you can jump off and not be hurt. The people will see it as a miracle and you’ll be re-elected in a landslide.” Trump said, “You mean not hurt by anything? I can shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and not lose any voters?” The Devil knew Trump already had this, so he said: “I can give you absolute immunity from prosecution for anything you do as president; you can use the Army to assassinate any opposition and you can stay in office for the rest of your life.”

So dealmaker Trump asks the question: “and what do I have to give you?” The Devil said, “a God Bless the USA Bible with your autograph and free shipping. You can call it legal fees. You’ll do the rest of what I want on your own.”

Trump and the 14th Amendment

You’d have to be consciously avoiding the news not to be aware of the discussions about how former president Donald Trump could be ineligible to become president again because of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which says:

Section 3.
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

14th Amendment – US Constitution

Let’s put aside the substantive question of whether Donald Trump did indeed take an oath under these circumstances, and whether he actually engaged in insurrection or gave aid and comfort to enemies. Rather I want to look at the mechanics of how such a determination might be made.

Legal experts are saying that the section is “self executing” just as the constitutional requirement for natural born citizenship, age and residence is self executing. They argue that no conviction of the crime of insurrection is required and that a state authority charged with determining who is on the ballot can simply make the decision.

Over 212 lawsuits were filed in attempt to prevent Barack Obama from becoming president because, the suits alleged, Obama lacked the natural born citizen requirement. The result of that effort is instructional because only one judicial decision made by an administrative law judge in Georgia found Obama eligible, and all the rest were dismissed or it was determined that no state official was required to make a decision. State secretaries of state have said that the decision is left to the political parties who put forward candidates, or dodged the question in other ways.

The first lawsuit challenging Trump lawsuit was rejected by a Florida court for lack of standing (that means the person bringing the lawsuit didn’t qualify as someone who could sue). The second was in Colorado where state law explicitly allows voters to bring a lawsuit. It might survive and be heard, and perhaps the validity of the process tackled by the U. S. Supreme Court. It’s a messy approach, because each states’ laws are different, and state secretaries of state are political people. Fifty cases, plus appeals, is rough. Nevertheless, this is what the pundits are concluding is the avenue to resolution. I think it will be a mess.

I think there is another way. Those talking about resolution by the courts fail to consider another amendment to the U. S. Constitution, the 20th, that says in Section 3:

Section 3.

If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.

20th Amendment – US Constitution

That is, the Congress is explicitly directed by the Constitution to consider qualification when declaring the next president.

The Documents: Richard Nixon, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Mike Pence, et al. and Donald Trump

Richard Nixon

I’m old enough to remember the Watergate Scandal, the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), dirty tricks, and some White House documents Nixon took with him when he resigned. Richard Nixon took a trove of documents home with him and later donated them somewhere and took a whopping income tax deduction.1

Recently Donald Trump defended himself by giving the Nixon example, saying Nixon took records valued at $18 million when he left office and cited the Presidential Records Act.2 There is, however a fatal flaw in Trump’s argument, namely that the Presidential Records Act (1978) did not exist when Richard Nixon took his papers with him. At that time, presidential records belonged to the president. Starting with president Reagan, presidential records belong to the United States. And I’ve never seen any suggestion that Nixon took classified records, only his own papers and the infamous White House tapes. In any case, Nixon was pardoned for everything, known or unknown, he did.

Hillary Clinton

As most know by now, Hillary Clinton used a private email address to conduct official business, and in the conduct of that business a few emails were sent to her that were classified. To put this in context, emails were at that time becoming a regular form of communication. Clinton’s predecessor Condoleezza Rice didn’t use email at all. Colin Powell rarely used it. Clinton used a server of her own to host her emails for some of that period, and a commercial hosting company for a later period.

There were some problems with Clinton’s emails. First, there is a federal records retention statute requiring that official government business records be archived. Clinton believed that her communications with others in the White House and at the State Department, the official emails mixed in with her private ones, would be archived by the White House and State Department servers; however, due to flaws in those systems, many of those emails were not not saved.

The second problem is that a few of those emails were either classified when she received them or contained information that was classified later. Some of those classified emails were improperly labeled. Clinton was of course authorized to have those emails, but her custodianship of them was negligent and careless, and left them open to hacking by those not entitled to them. While there is no proof that Clinton’s server was hacked, some experts think it very possible.

Some make a big deal of Clinton using acid to destroy her server to hide the emails, something that didn’t happen. At the time that Clinton’s private email address was hosted by a commercial company, her office directed the company to purge old emails after some period of time. The hosting company didn’t purge the emails as requested. Later when Congress started investigating, they asked Clinton to preserve any records, and her office contacted the hosting company asking them to retain everything. A technician at the hosting company then realized that he had failed to carry out his earlier instructions, and hurriedly purged the old ones, and erased the disk drive with commercial software called “Bleach Bit.” It’s a commonly used free tool.3

The important thing about the Clinton matter is that a bipartisan Congressional committee investigated the matter in extreme detail, including receiving testimony from Clinton herself and the technician that deleted the emails, testifying under a grant of immunity. They concluded that Clinton was negligent, but not criminal in her actions. That is, an investigation was done, and no charges were found appropriate.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden had an office in DC connected with the University of Pennsylvania. When he became president that office was no longer used and it was cleared out. The clean-up discovered some classified records from his term as vice president. Biden’s attorney immediately contacted the National Archives and the records were quickly returned.4 Some additional classified records were discovered by Biden’s staff in his garage at his Delaware home. They also were returned quickly. A Department of Justice investigation determined that the classified records were there unintentionally and that no laws had been broken. It was an honest mistake — a big mistake, but not a crime.

Mike Pence

Former vice president Mike Pence found some classified records at his home, and they were quickly returned. Again, the Department of Justice investigated found that the records were moved unintentionally and that no laws were broken.5

Two other cases

Before moving on to Donald Trump, I want to mention two other cases involving classified material. The first is that of a US Navy sailor, Kristian Saucier. For unproven reasons, Saucier took photographs with his phone of engineering areas of the nuclear submarine on which served. Even having the phone on board was against regulations. He tried to cover up what he did by throwing the phone in a dumpster. The phone was retrieved and Saucier was court martialed and received a sentence of one year in prison. Saucier’s case became a cause célèbre for conservatives — if Clinton can do it, so can a US Navy Sailor. Trump issued a pardon to Saucier based on the “Clinton got away with it” rationale.6

The other case involves a Department of Defense executive assistant in Hawaii, who took some documents labeled Classified and Secret home with her. A co-worker came across them at a party at the woman’s home and reported it. She was convicted and received 3 months in prison and a $5,500 fine.7

Both of these knew what they were doing was illegal.

Donald Trump

The forty-four page indictment of Donald Trump puts it better than I could, and makes is plain why Donald Trump does not belong in the company of careless and sloppy classified document handlers, but among the criminal ranks of those who intentionally and willfully took classified documents.

I’ll just summarize:

  1. Trump ordered that classified documents be removed from the White House.
  2. He refused to return them when requested by the National Archives for many months.
  3. He intentionally did not return all the documents.
  4. They were stored at a resort where many people came and went, including foreign nationals. Some were in a bathroom. Some on a stage. Some in a storage room.
  5. He took some of them with him to his winter home in Bedminster.
  6. He directed that documents be moved so that an attorney responding to a subpoena for the documents wouldn’t find them.
  7. He personally went through the documents, and willfully retained some of them.
  8. He causes false statements to be made to the court representing that all documents were returned.
  9. He admitted that he knew he had classified documents, and showed them at least superficially to people who had to authorization to see them.

Trump knew what he was doing. He knew it was a crime. But he thought he was a star, and could get away with things others to go jail for. The disheartening thing is that far too many Trump followers agree with him.

Trump dumber than many of his followers

When looking at the 2020 election fraud conspiracy theories, some are dumber than others and some are more simply debunked than others. One of the dumbest and simplest to debug is the claim that there were more votes than voters in Pennsylvania.

The claim takes the number of absentee ballots requested in the Pennsylvania primary election and compares it to the number of absentee votes cast in the general election. Oops. If one takes the number of absentee ballots requested for the general election, then it is smaller (as it would have to be) to the number of absentee ballots cast.

This was of course debunked by the journalists who do this for a living:

These debunking articles are a month or more old today, as Trump continues to repeat them

And just in case it gets deleted, here’s a picture:

Two Presidents

This article is reprinted from my post at Quora.com.

The reader can take comfort from the fact that I am usually wrong predicting Donald Trump.

Let’s start with an iconic photo of Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office as president upon the death of John F. Kennedy.

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office

The woman administering the oath of office was federal district judge Sarah Hughes. There’s nothing in U. S. law requiring the president’s oath of office be administered by the chief justice of the Supreme Court or even a federal judge; it can be administered by anyone who is authorized under law to accept an oath.

History is not my strong suit, but I recall that in the 14th century, the Roman Catholic Church had two popes. (There was a plague too.) There were two claimants to the throne of St. Peter, and for political reasons some supported one, and some supported the other.

Could not Donald Trump, again, declare that he won the election, and find some justice of the peace to swear him in? Could some red state legislature then vote, saying that Pope Donald was the real president, and swear allegiance to him? Could Trump surround himself with supporters, and he appoint them to “cabinet positions,” and start calling world leaders declaring Biden not the real president? Would we have “divided government” to a degree not seen since the Civil War?

Trump doing that seems insane, but so does what Donald Trump is doing now with his election conspiracy theories.

Whether Trump will try to get himself sworn in president in January is unknown, but be prepared for 4 years of “Biden is not really president” on the Internet, as we had 8 years of “Obama is not really president” from the same crowd.