The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

How much Bruce Rauner cost Illinois

In another implicit rebuke to the lump of clay that occupied the Governor's Mansion for four years, Illinois finally got a bump in its credit rating after Governor Pritzker started paying our bills again:

In upgrading Illinois’ credit by one step — to two notches above junk bond status instead of one — Wall Street ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service noted that the $42 billion spending plan for the year starting July 1 “increases pension contributions, repays emergency Federal Reserve borrowings and keeps a backlog of bills in check with only constrained use of federal aid” from President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan.

Even after the upgrade, Illinois remains the lowest-rated state on Moody’s scale, two notches below the next-lowest: New Jersey. Generally, states with higher credit ratings are able to borrow money at lower interest rates, ultimately saving taxpayers money.

While the upgrade from Moody’s is welcome news, it only returns the state’s rating to where it was before the last of three downgrades during the tumultuous tenure of Pritzker’s predecessor, former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

It still baffles me why Rauner screwed Illinois so hard and without lube. He may have qualified as a "moderate" Republican by today's standards, but he still moved to kill unions, kill the state budget, and kill working people in Illinois.

Rauner now lives in exile in—where else?—Florida.

Wednesday afternoon

I spent the morning unsuccessfully trying to get a .NET 5 Blazor WebAssembly app to behave with an Azure App Registration, and part of the afternoon doing a friend's taxes. Yes, I preferred doing the taxes, because I got my friend a pile of good news without having to read sixty contradictory pages of documentation.

I also became aware of the following:

Tomorrow morning, I promise to make my WebAssembly app talk to our Azure Active Directory. Right now, I think someone needs a walk.

The world still spins

As much fun as Cassie and I have had over the last few days, the news around the world didn't stop:

Finally, journalist Jack Lieb filmed D-Day using a 16mm home movie camera, which you can see on the National Archives blog. It's really cool.

Why do we go through this every year?

Washington Post columnist Helaine Olin argues for a simplified tax filing procedure in the US:

Filing taxes is a time-consuming, bureaucratic chore that the Internal Revenue Service estimates will take the typical American 11 hours. Nationwide, that works out to some 6 billion lost hours a year, according to T.R. Reid, author of the 2017 book “A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System.”

The thing is, filing taxes just doesn’t have to be this hard. In 36 countries, the nation’s tax agency sends eligible residents a pre-filled return, and asks them to sign if they agree with the amount that’s indicated is owed or should be credited to them. Japan does this. So do Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain and others. A 2018 German study found that the pre-filled forms raise tax compliance.

So why not us, you ask?

The short answer: the United States took the British penchant for time-wasting activities and dialed it to 11. The longer answer might have something to do with Intuit's $5.7 million lobbying effort over the past two years.

Record temperature yesterday

Chicago got up to 21°C yesterday, tying the record for March 9th set in 1974. It's already 20°C right now, close to the record 22°C set in 1955.

In other news:

And now that I've finally gotten a .NET 5 application to deploy onto a Microsoft Azure Functions App, I will take a well-earned walk.

Down-ballot races

As the counting continues in the states both presidential candidates need to win, and as Biden's lead continues to increase in Wisconsin and Michigan while he catches up in Pennsylvania, I should mention that voters weighed in on other races last night.

  • Every person bar one I voted for won in Illinois, including Joe Biden, US Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D), US Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL09), my state representative Gregory Harris (D-13), and my state senator Heather Steans (D-7). (Steans ran unopposed.)
  • Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL06) held his seat after his challenger Jeanne Ives came within a whisker of beating him. Meanwhile, extreme-right-wing dairy mogul Jim Oberweis' race to defeat incumbent US Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL14) remains too close to call; at this writing, Oberweis is up by 900 votes out of 375,000 counted.
  • The Fair Tax Amendment failed. It would have allowed a graduated income tax in Illinois and slowed the concentration of wealth here, and I supported it. Plutocrat Ken Griffin provided most of the money towards defeating it, mainly so he could continue to hoard the wealth he gained through skimming off the financial system.
  • A pair of billionaires succeeded in defeating Illinois Supreme Court Justice Tom Kilbride. Griffin contributed millions to this effort as well. (See a pattern?)
  • Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx won re-election, but not easily.
  • Mark Kelly won a resounding victory over US Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ). Because McSally was never elected to the office, Kelly can take his seat in the Senate as soon as the vote is certified.
  • US Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) appears to have won, 52%-45%, denying us a pickup we had hoped for.
  • In Maine, US Senator Susan Collins (R) is 66,000 votes ahead of challenger Sara Gideon, and looks likely to retain her seat.
  • In Georgia, US Senator David Purdue (R) and challenger Jon Ossoff may go to a runoff in January if neither wins 50% of the vote. With 94% counted, Perdue is up by 3 percentage points, at just over 50%. Georgia's special election for Senate will also go to a runoff with Democrat Raphael Warnock winning 32% of the vote against incumbent Sally Loeffler (R).

In sum: Biden will probably win, but we won't know if we have flipped the Senate until January. When the 117th Congress sits on January 3rd, we will most likely have 49 senators to the Republicans' 50, with Warnock being our only hope of getting any significant legislation onto Biden's desk before 2023.

Evening news stories

A cold front pushed its way through Chicago this afternoon, making it feel much more like autumn than we've experienced so far. And it got pretty chilly in Washington, where Senate Republicans began the first day of hearings into the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court:

And much farther from home, Mars will be in opposition tomorrow night, coincidentally during the new moon, meaning we'll get a really good look at it.

First Tuesday in October

Starting in March, this year has seemed like a weird anthology TV show, with each month written and directed by a different team. We haven't had Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme yet; I'm hoping that'll be the season finale in February. This month we seem to have Armando Iannucci running the show, as the President's antics over the weekend suggest.

So here's how I'm spending lunch:

Tomorrow night will be the vice-presidential debate, which I will again live-blog. I can't wait.

More fallout from the Times report

Daniel Shaviro, a veteran tax attorney, lays out 10 takeaways from the New York Times story Sunday about the president's tax returns:

1) Tax is the least of it. The article offers direct evidence of Trump’s impending financial liability to unknown lenders, and of pervasive conflicts of interest as president, that are of grave national security concern.

6) The consulting fees that Trump’s various foreign businesses paid to Ivanka Trump and others look potentially fraudulent

Based on what the article says, several different types of fraud may have been involved here. Fees paid to family members who did not provide services in return would be improper deductions. Fees paid to “consultants” who were employees might be properly deductible by the business – as salary – but would potentially trigger 3.8 percent payroll tax liability by the recipient under the so-called Medicare payroll tax. Fees that were actually gifts to family members were not properly deductible, and also may have generated gift tax liability on Trump’s part that the mislabeling helped to conceal.

10) There is an old saying that one can never detect tax fraud purely on the face of a tax return – but this comes closer than usual. – Even wholly fraudulent tax returns generally do not proclaim their fraudulence on their face. The Trump returns presumably are no exception, and much of the evidence suggesting possible fraudulence was developed in the Times article through the use of other sources. Nonetheless, with that aid, the Times article makes a powerful initial case, clearly meriting investigation, that substantial tax fraud may have occurred.

Over at the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin sees this as yet more evidence that "Everything [the president] touches dies:"

Trump will surely need to account for the latest bombshell at the debate on Tuesday, but Democratic nominee Joe Biden should be clear that Trump’s financial losses are far from his most egregious failure. Instead, Biden should point to the loss of more than 200,000 American lives, of millions of jobs, of America’s international prestige, of the Supreme Court’s integrity, of the presidency’s dignity, of the country’s unity and of the justice system’s credibility. Everything Trump touches is made worse. His rallies bring super-spreaders to America; his policies bring one catastrophe after another.

The latest revelations — and those the Times promises are to come — make it much harder, if not impossible, for Trump to find safer terrain in the waning days of the race. He has failed to come up with a coherent (let alone winning) argument against Biden, and worse, has handed Biden one devastating argument after another to deploy against him. He generates devastating stories faster than Biden’s opposition research team can compile them. We have every reason to believe things will get even worse for Trump in the days ahead.

As for tonight's debate, tune in to The Daily Parker. I'll be live-blogging.

All the president's taxes

The New York Times dropped a bomb over the weekend with its revelation that it obtained 20 years of the president's tax returns. The documents show that either the president is one of the worst businessmen in American history, or he has committed (and indeed may still be committing) one of the largest tax frauds in American history. Actually, it looks like both:

The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.

The picture that perhaps emerges most starkly from the mountain of figures and tax schedules prepared by Mr. Trump’s accountants is of a businessman-president in a tightening financial vise.

Most of Mr. Trump’s core enterprises — from his constellation of golf courses to his conservative-magnet hotel in Washington — report losing millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars year after year.

His revenue from “The Apprentice” and from licensing deals is drying up, and several years ago he sold nearly all the stocks that now might have helped him plug holes in his struggling properties.

The tax audit looms.

And within the next four years, more than $300 million in loans — obligations for which he is personally responsible — will come due.

I've had a security clearance, and let me just say that debt will keep you from getting one. You can be a paid-up member of the Communist Party and have a secret drug stash in your basement and still get a top secret clearance—as long as you have no significant debts and you admit the drug stash in your SF-86. But that's just one of the president's problems, according to the documents:

He appears to have paid off none of the principal of the Trump Tower mortgage, and the full $100 million comes due in 2022. And if he loses his dispute with the I.R.S. over the 2010 refund, he could owe the government more than $100 million (including interest on the original amount).

In the 1990s, Mr. Trump nearly ruined himself by personally guaranteeing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, and he has since said that he regretted doing so. But he has taken the same step again, his tax records show. He appears to be responsible for loans totaling $421 million, most of which is coming due within four years.

Should he win re-election, his lenders could be placed in the unprecedented position of weighing whether to foreclose on a sitting president. Whether he wins or loses, he will probably need to find new ways to use his brand — and his popularity among tens of millions of Americans — to make money.

You can predict the reactions. The president called it "fake news," which means it's true. The Wall Street Journal appears to have ignored it—there's not a single story on their main or opinion pages about it at this writing. Fox News highlighted the president's and his press secretary's responses, but below the fold, in small headlines.

On our side, NBC's Jonathan Allen believes this is "devastating for his campaign:"

The vast majority of his base voters won't care whether he paid taxes or lied about being a successful businessman. His ability to pull one over on the public or the government — perhaps both — will be accepted by most of his supporters as evidence of his cunning, his acumen and his strategic brilliance.

But that base is simultaneously Trump's greatest strength and weakness on the electoral battlefield.

His inability to expand beyond his base and court the less strident is the main challengeto his re-election hopes. And the tax records make things worse. The documents reinforce narratives about Trump that fire up Democrats and give pause to Republican-leaning voters who might be persuaded either to cast ballots for Democratic nominee Joe Biden or simply stay home.

So while the tax records don't contain many surprises for those who have paid close attention to Trump's business dealings — and the distance between his boasts and the reality of his record as the head of the firms that make up "Trump Inc." — they do put Trump in a position he would like to have avoided.

Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post agrees with me:

For his part, Trump has previously argued that shirking his tax obligations made him “smart.” He suggested that he merely took advantage of legal loopholes, the kind available to deep-pocketed Americans who can afford top-notch tax preparation advice. And as I’ve written before, the real estate industry enjoys tons of loopholes and other opportunities for legally minimizing tax obligations, most notably through depreciation deductions. But per the Times, Trump’s “three European golf courses, the Washington hotel, Doral and Trump Corporation reported losing a total of $150.3 million from 2010 through 2018, without including depreciation as an expense.”

That is: They were money pits.

Additionally, Times reporters Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire include details of tax practices that were, at best, extraordinarily aggressive and, at worst, suggest possible fraud on a massive scale.

These include deducting lifestyle expenses, such as the cost of haircuts, as if they were business expenses. Or appearing to pay Ivanka Trump consulting fees on the same hotel deals that she helped manage as part of her job at her father’s business, an arrangement that may have been a way to transfer assets without paying gift taxes.

One might reasonably wonder why Trump, who appears to tweet, watch TV and golf more than he exercises his duties as president, has ever wanted a second term. Well, in addition to his desire to finally build his border wall or continue dodging potential indictments, we now know that Trump has about a half-billion dollars’ worth of motivation to stay in office four more years.

These documents show what we've really known all along: the president has perpetrated the biggest con on the American people in the country's history. But you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

Will this really change the election? Well, a 1% swing in any of the battleground states would have done it four years ago.

In related news, Showtime's The Comey Rule will frustrate the hell out of you. I strongly recommend it.