Poor (or not so poor) Richard’s Almanac

One of my two North Carolina Senators is Richard Burr. While I do not agree with everything he opines, this independent voter has voted for him on occasion and against him as well. Yet, he has always seemed to be one of the more reasonable Republicans and Senators in office. I have actually even met him twice, once at a meeting about the state’s homeless population and once at my boss’ request to brief him on employer health care issues when he first ran as a Congressman.

So, this makes it even more troubling that he has been alleged of insider trading on stocks to pocket the upside gain on hospitality stocks when he had knowledge those stocks would suffer as the coronavirus became more known. He and Kelly Loeffler, the new Senator from Georgia, have been accused of such. From a Reason.com article called “Senators Richard Burr, Kelly Loeffler accused of coronavirus motivated insider trading” (see link below):

“Plague trading? Privately, Sen. Richard Burr (R–N.C.) warned constituents weeks ago that coronavirus was “akin to the 1918 pandemic,” NPR reports. Publicly, he towed President Donald Trump’s line that the new disease would not be a big deal.

Worse still, ProPublica reports that Burr sold off between $600,000 and $1.7 million in stocks on February 13, suggesting that he used his private knowledge about the coming economic impact of the pandemic to prevent personal financial losses. Burr chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and is a member of the Health Committee. At the time he sold the stocks—a significant proportion of his wealth—he was being briefed regularly on COVID-19.

It was the largest single-day stock trade for Burr in 14 months.”

Insider trading is a crime for “named executives” according to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Note Burr is not a named executive of these companies. Yet, it is also in violation of the STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) passed in 2012, which Burr ironically voted against. This act was passed after “60 Minutes” did a report that noted former Congress members were leaving office much wealthier than when they arrived due to insider knowledge. This is where Burr’s action may lead to trouble for him.

People may not recall the Enron scandal which hit the fan in the early 2000s. This is where Enron executives had over 40 fraudulent schemes to hide losses and artificially prop up earnings for stock appreciation and bonus determination. What is also infuriating, the CEO told employees to keep buying and not divest Enron stock, even when he knew the price was artificially propped up. He and his CFO went to jail for securities fraud. Senator Burr was telling people the president’s party-line of not to panic about the coronavirus and this will blow over, when he had been briefed as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committee to the contrary.

He argues that he was selling based on public knowledge, but the above paragraph reveals concerns. Right now, a shareholder of Wyndham Resorts, one of the stocks, is suing the Senator for insider trading. I am certain other shareholders will be asked to join the lawsuit to make it a class action. They will have standing, meaning they lost value, while Burr sold and pocketed gain on the advance knowledge.

A recent poll in The Charlotte Observer, cited 50% of all NC voters and 31% of GOP NC voters want Burr to resign. Even Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson has asked for his resignation. This is why it is critical that elected officials must be divorced from the handling of their investments, either placing them in blind trust or selling them. It should be noted NC Congressman Robert Pittenger resigned his position two years ago due to his unethically remaining involved in the management of his business when he said he was not.

Senator Burr, I recognize this an alleged crime, but the optics look very poor. I know you asked for an investigation, which sounds good, but if it is done correctly, it may not come out in your favor. Even if it does, the shareholder lawsuit will be even more invasive. I do not see you escaping hard scrutiny. It is sad that you will likely be remembered more for this, than other more reasonable efforts you have made. I know you have announced last year you won’t be running again in 2022, but you may be forced to reconsider this.

Sens. Richard Burr, Kelly Loeffler Accused of Coronavirus-Motivated Insider Trading

The unlearned lesson

Institutions have a bad habit of not learning lessons. The unlearned lessons may even be from their own history, yet they go unlearned or unheeded. Examples continue to pile-up like a stack of unread reports or emails.

To compile just a short list of such examples, consider the following organizations and what each failed to learn: the Catholic Church, Toyota, VW, Wells Fargo, Penn State University, Michigan State University, The Ohio State University, Congress and the current President just to name a few.

The Catholic Church has known about a significant problem for many decades with pedophile priests. Yet, protecting the institution was the first motivation, not stopping the abuse of children. Even after major scandals occurred in Boston and Ireland, signicant change did not occur to prevent future molestations.

The unlearned lesson is you focus on the abused as you fix the problem, not protecting the institution. When you address the problem openly and painfully, that is how you protect the institution. Cover-ups eventually fail, because the truth has a way of getting out.

Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State are major universities and sports marketing franchises. Leaders within Penn State and Michigan State have known for years that there was a sexual predator in their midst. Yet, they chose not to act, trying to hide it from the public. As a result, more young boys, girls and teens were molested. By not addressing the problem, they brought appropriate shame to their marketing brands.

Ohio State has a similar issue with a physician who worked with the wrestlers. It has been known for years by athletes and coaches to avoid this doctor due to his practice of checking for testicular cancer for any visit, such as the flu, cold, fever, etc. Yet, nothing was done until several men came forward about their experiences.

For-profit companies are notoriously protective of their brands, but the better solution is to come clean and remedy the problem. Toyota was very slow on their floor rug braking problem. VW purposefully cheated emissions tests and were very slow to fess up after discovery. Many car companies who used Takata air bags also were slow to reveal a massive and deadly problem.

But, it is not just car companies. Banks and financial entities have experienced issues with aggressive and even illegal sales practices. Wells Fargo has justifiably gotten a lot of press for setting up false accounts as staff tried to keep jobs and earn bonuses. Bank of America and American Express have been fined for selling products and services that people did not request or need. And, pay-day lenders have a business model of excessive usury.

Even our governments have a hard time learning lessons. When the incumbent dishonors the office, the institution must penalize the incumbent. It matters not what party the incumbent belongs to. This applies to local, state and federal levels of government. It must apply to Congress and the White House. The punishment can vary from formal rebuke to censoring to removal from committees or from office.

Trust in institutions has waned. Some of this mistrust is due to hyperbole, such as what the current President has done to protect himself, but much is due to institutions not dealing with problems openly and appropriately. It also is due to them being more concerned with image than substance.

On this latter point, another unlearned lesson is the best way to keep your job is to do your job. And, when others don’t and/ or harm people, the institutions should fix the problem and let people know that they have. It is the right thing to do and avoids covering up and abetting criminality.

A new phone scam

One of the downsides about having a phone is getting phone scam calls. The latest scam is for the caller to leave a recorded message that does not include your name but says “You are a person of interest in a formal proceeding. We have tried to contact you several times, so please call this number to discuss this issue.”

This is a scam. I am certain someone at the number I am asked to call back would ask me to wire money to make it go away. If I was a person of interest, they would not be calling me.

This serves as a reminder of other scams. Top of mind, here are a few to watch out for:

– IRS Scam: Someone will call leaving a message that you owe back taxes and the IRS will seek legal action to collect. The IRS will send you a letter if there is an issue with your taxes.

– Grandparent scam: The caller will pretend to be a grandchild and wait for the person to give the caller a name of a grandchild. The caller then assumes that identity. Typically, the faux grandchild says they have been in an accident and need money wired.

– Microsoft scam: This scam uses a caller who says Microsoft has detected that you are having computer problems. They want access to your computer at which time they will glean important financial information and passwords.

This does not address aggressive marketing attempts where the caller appears to be your credit card company. They are not really, but just want to issue you another credit card. It also doesn’t address other unscrupulous schemes where callers pretend to be who they are not to sell another product. Nor does it address the email phishing attempts that will allow someone to commandeer your computer.

Be on the look out. People want your money. Too many will lie, cheat and steal. All it takes is one bite to get hooked on a bad deal for you. What are some of the other scams you have come across?

It is all about the money

People want your money. Some want it through legitimate marketing means doing a good job for as many customers as possible. Some embellish their story overselling their wares with terms like “new and improved.” And, there are those who do anything to get your money lying, cheating, causing fear, extorting, etc. I will stop of short of people who steal it outright. It is the category above thief that concerns me given their reach.

John Oliver on his show “Last Week Tonight,” offers some of the best reporting on subjects as he focuses his comedic lens at the hypocrisy and inanity. He did an excellent piece on con artists disguised as televangelists as they artfully and persistently bilk their followers under the guise of a “prosperity ministry.” The only people getting rich is the one talking not the many listening.

Yet, his show this past Sunday night illuminated me to another con artist bilking people for money – none other than Alex Jones of Infowars. I am well aware of Jones’ inane and provocative conspiracy stories – Sandy Hook shooting being a hoax as one of his more famous ones. What I did not know is how Jones uses his show to raise money for his main cause – his own wealth. And, with 6 million followers, he does quite nicely.

Oliver illustrated the number of high margin products offered as sidebar commercials on Jones’ four hour show. Oliver showed examples where certain products peddled by Jones could be bought for 1/10 the price. Plus, Jones uses a so-called medical expert, with purported numerous degrees, including one from MIT, to help him sell his medicinal wares. As Oliver pointed out, the expert has no such degrees.

A great example of Jones’ selling style illustrated by Oliver demonstrates how it works. Jones went on a long rant about how the government was making us all gay by putting feminine hormones in the water system. So, the next day after raising alarm, Jones pitched a water purification system that will rid your water of all unwanted chemicals and hormones. He scares you first, then he sells you a cure or a solution.

So, in addition to being a conspiracy crazed shock jock, at the heart of the show is another description of what Alex Jones is all about. As demonstrated by Oliver, Jones is an astute con artist.

A Beleaguered President

In his public attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the incumbent has given us the perfect word to define his Presidency. Beleaguered.

The beleaguered President has done more to undermine his own veracity than anyone else could possibly muster. His worst enemy is the man-child that looks back at him from the mirror when he shaves. And, man-child is the appropriate description.

The beleaguered President spoke to a large gathering of Boy Scouts. Yet, the key messaging of the key-note speaker was not one of honor, trustworthiness and service, it was one of lying, cheating, name-calling. It also included a healthy dose of braggadocio. The far more honorable part of the equation was in the audience, not behind the dais.

This man-child has a multitude of reasons why he should have never been elected. Those reasons continue as President. This is even before we see what he has done as President to make the US a less trustworthy country and what he is likely to have done with Russian influences to get elected.

Yet, two items should stick out which are examples of his character. He fired James Comey and announced to news sources before telling Comey was fired. That is extremely poor form.

The second is how he is bad mouthing Sessions in public. Mind you, Sessions is no day at the beach in my view, but he is being bullied into resigning. The adage of praise in public and criticize in private is lost on this man-child. The President asks for loyalty, but offers known in return. Per an attorney who worked for him, this is modus operandi. And, make no mistake, if his son or son-in-law become a liability, he will jettison them.

My hope is Robert Mueller will complete his work and find the trail of money, which makes the beleaguered President nervous. And, it should not be lost on anyone that the Senate and House have passed bills with only single digit dissent to sanction Russia and restrict the President’s ability to change them. That says loudly and clearly, “we do not trust you.” Neither should we.

The Great Russian Rationalization

As the retreating lines in the sand continue to be drawn with the lying, denial and story changing, there is an interesting process underway. As the Russian meddling story gets closer to the White House, more than a few so-called news sources and supporters of the President are doing the “Great Russian Rationlization.” Fortunately, there is growing number of conservatives who are realizing the President has been less than truthful to counterbalance the rationalization effort.

Yet, these rationalizing discussions are increasing because of the growing credibility of the Russian meddling story. With the Donald Trump, Jr. emails and meeting with a Russian attorney and investigation into Jared Kushner’s digital data mining role, the story should no longer be downplayed as a witchhunt, the favorite dismissal line of the President. So, these so-called news outlets are openly discussing that collusion may not be a crime, this meeting is just bad judgment, this is not conspiracy, treason and so on.

Attorneys, news agencies and supporters can talk all they want, but if Ronald Reagan were alive, he would rake these folks over the coals. A Watergate prosecutor said on NPR earlier this week, this could be construed as a conspiracy with a foreign entity to accept value in violation of the Federal Elections Campaign Act. The contention by Junior that no services were proffered is moot in the mind of the prosecutor as he went to learn about such.

It should also be noted that Senior’s FBI Director nominee, Christipher Wray said yesterday under oath to a Senate committee that the investigation of Russian meddling is not a “witchhunt” directly refuting the President’s assertion that it is. He supports the effort of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller who he holds in  high regard and calls a “straight shooter.”

Setting aside the Great Russian Rationalization, here is what we know.

– the President is on public record for firing the FBI Director over the “Russian thing.”

– the testimony under oath by former FBI Director James Comey spoke of the President’s coercion to drop looking into the issues related to Michael Flynn.

– the President and several of his team have been confirmed to have lied about Russian meetings during the campaign and transition leading to the firing of Michael Flynn, the recusal of Jeff Sessions from the “Russian thing,” and Junior confirming with his own words that he lied several times about the meeting. Further, the President lied about no one having contact with the Russians.

– the changing stories as information filters out. I refer to this earlier as drawing retreating lines in the sand. Call me crazy, but this gives me the impression of people with something to hide. I would add do not assume Senior or Junior are telling the truth now.

Yet, four things convince me Trump was more than an unwitting pawn in the Russian meddling. He has been embarassingly nonchalant about a major crime against the US by Russia. He has been overtly friendly with the Russian leaders in meetings believing them over the advice of his intelligence community. He has numerous business and financial ties to Russian investors and lenders. And, per six authors who wrote about Trump’s history, the President has a very difficult time with the truth.

My strong advice to legislators who support this President “no matter what” is to remember they swore an oath to the United States of America. And, do they really want to be remembered for blindly supporting a man whose word means so little? To be brutally frank, people can perfume this pig all they want, but to me it looks and smells like conspiratorial acts may been committed. One thing is for certain, this story will not be going away.

 

 

The circus is not going away

While Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey will be ceasing their circus tours ending an era, we have an even bigger circus going on in the White House. It is the new greatest show on earth, but unfortunately that is not a good thing.

Former Republican Congressman, Senator and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen was being interviewed by the BBC earlier this week. A question was asked regarding the President’s lack of veracity with the truth. The correspondent said the world is noticing and leaders are coming to the conclusion that they cannot trust Donald Trump.

Cohen said it is more than that, as not only is it the lack of trust in Trump, he represents America, so it is our trust that is at risk. He added “the world is watching our circus.” He added when President Kennedy approached French President De Gaulle for his support in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy offered to show him pictures of the missiles. De Gaulle said he did not need to as he trusted America. Cohen did not sense Trump and America would get that level of trust.

Even Trump’s hand-picked people (Messrs. Mattis, McMaster, Kelly, Tillerson and Pence) are having to apologize for his remarks, assuage our allies and openly disagree with the President. One NATO leader asked “who speaks for America?” When our leader lies about the smallest of things to nurture his large ego and has problems with the truth on larger issues, it requires others to fill in the gaps.

Yet, this should not be a surprise as Trump has always had trouble with the truth per six authors who wrote his biographies and his best seller. It was no different during the campaign when fact checking organizations said he lied 70% of the time, by far more than any other presidential candidate since 2007 when their measuring started. This same percentage is holding steady in his Presidency per these same fact checkers.

While I am in the camp of giving him a chance, he has not been able to achieve even my low bar of expectations. A key reason is he cannot stop lying. Even during his lone speech that got accolades, he lied at least eight times. And, when caught in a lie, he doubles and triples down on the lies enlisting his staff to get the coarsest sand paper to smooth out his stories. They say he is not lying, you misunderstood him, he was speaking jokingly or did not mean to use that specific term, e.g.

Yet, when something major happens, both Americans and our allies have to be able to trust the President. Right now, the answer is they will be less inclined to do so. I have shared before I don’t believe a word the man says. If he says it, the odds are in my favor it is not true. As just one example, he said he has never met a Russian businessman who bought his house and had his plane on the same tarmac as Trump’s on two separate occasions – I don’t believe him. Now, I a may be wrong to think that, but his track record would say I’m right.

And, that is sad. We do not need a circus in the White House. We need a leader. We need someone to tell us the truth.

Trump has screwed the pooch and has yet to realize it

During the movie and book “The Right Stuff” about astronauts and test pilots, when a pilot made a fatal error, it was often said “he screwed the pooch.” Unfortunately, the key word in the sentence is fatal. Although he won’t die from this, our President has just screwed the pooch with respect to his presidency. It will take several to many months for this to play out, but his presidency is toast. He will be impeached or resign.

Why do I say such a thing? Actually, I am borrowing from E.J.Dionne’s column noting the President has painted himself into a corner. After his furious internal  response to Jeff Sessions’ recusing himself from a Russian involvement investigation and after his childish attempts to show Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer meeting with Putin years ago on the record, he took it upon himself to send a series of tweets accusing the former President of something he could not and would not do.

Trump ham-handedly said Obama had his office wiretapped before the election, without citing proof. Not only has Obama denied this, but so has James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence and James Comey, the Director of the FBI. Comey was said to be indignant over Trump’s claiming his people broke the law. These two would know if wiretapping went on and they denied it. Now, why would both of them deny something that could be easily proven in an investigation?

But, here is the corner Trump is now in. Senator Lindsey Graham will investigate this. If there, in fact, was a wiretap, a judge would have ordered it and would have had probable cause. That is not good for Mr. President. If it was not, then the President just showed horrible judgment and has accused the former President of something he did not do, plus he alienated further his intelligence community.

Yet, now Graham can open the can worms as he said he would and also investigate the Russian links. I hope that would include a subpoena of his tax records, because per conservative columnist David Brooks, Trump is likely beholden to someone for loans after his bankruptcies dried up normal channels of funding. And, unlike most other Republicans in Congress, Graham remembers he pledged an oath to uphold the constitution of the United States, not the Republican Party.

I have seen a lot of things in my time, but what I witness about the Russian involvement story, is this White House and people who supported Trump’s candidacy are doing a lot of lying, denial, apology for denial, and media bashing. I have felt for many months the American people deserve to get to the bottom of this dating back to late July when I first heard about Russian hacking. We are owed an explanation.

As a related aside, my wife and I watched Carter Page, one of Trump’s folks interviewed by PBS Newshour two weeks ago. He denied meeting with the Russians and was quite adamant about it. We looked at each other and said “he is lying.” Guess what? He admitted to lying last week. So, did Flynn and Sessions, no matter how much perfume he places on his explanation.

Trump has screwed the pooch because he cannot stay out of his own way. What is ironic is his fascination with pseudo news sites Fox News and Breitbart will be his undoing, as they are the source of his likely erroneous claim. I would be hard pressed to see Comey and Clapper lying over such an issue. I am not hard pressed to envision Trump lying about anything.

Just a thought

Where do you get your information? I ask this because our President seems to get his information from less than reliable sources and then criticizes more legitimate sources for disagreeing with him.

Here are a few questions to ask of your sources:

– if a source of information screams at his audience while his head is turning a very scary shade of red, he might not be a good source of information.
– if a source of information has such a raspy voice from shouting at the wind and name calls everyone who he deems appropriate, then he might not be a good source of information.
– if you get your information from Facebook or Twitter, you need to look carefully at sources cited and use the Twitter feed for headlines only to cause you to dig further on more legitimate sources.
– if you are getting your information from a source that must advertise they are fair and balanced to make up for their bias and inconsistent veracity, then you might want to consider another source for validation.
– if you are getting your information from the current President, stop because he is an unreliable source and has been most of his life.

I encourage you to check multiple sources. I am often asked where I get my information. Several places – PBS Newshour, BBC World News America, NPR, Reuters, and The Guardian. I read articles from my browser feed which come from The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Times, Newsweek, Time, etc. And, my local paper, The Charlotte Observee is a good source for local and state news.

A good sign a news source is reputable is they print errata or correct portions of stories that prove to be inaccurate. Admitting mistakes is a sign of intelligence.

I would also ask people who say inane things about their sources. Our President cites a couple of sources that are known for making things up or creating conspiracies. He even put one on the White House. And, he has actually appeared on one where the host is on record that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged, as an example of his lack of veracity.

Before someone claims fake news, he needs to make sure the things he is saying are legitimate whether it is about his electoral college landslide, voter fraud or unemployment or crime rates.

If it looks like a duck…

After a quite detailed investigation by David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post, several questions have been raised about The Trump Foundation. Unfortunately, we need to spend more time on these questions than the story is being given in short news cycles by main stream media.

I want to set aside the fact that Trump has not made recent contributions of his own money and likes to use other people’s money, while taking credit and accolades for the Foundation’s donations. I also want to set aside what the news is focusing most on and that is the buying of a portrait for personal use, which is illegal, if true.

What I want to focus on is the $25,000 donation made to the political campaign of the Florida Attorney General. The donation was received four days after an article appeared in a Florida newspaper revealing the Florida AG was considering charges against Trump University. After the timing of the donation, no charges were brought against Trump University. It should be noted there are three outstanding class action lawsuits against Trump University for alleged misrepresentation that began before the Trump campaign, which will continue whether he wins or loses the election. I guess the Florida claimants are not worthy of helping.

The AG denies this donation was buying influence as has the Trump campaign. Trump has admitted (after the investigation pointed it out) that the political donation from his Foundation was illegal and has made restitution, but there is more to it than that.

First, the donation was incorrectly noted on the Trump Foundation tax return as being made to a non-political group, which would have made it legitimate, if true. The campaign says this was an administrative error. Yet, it seems too coincidental that a later admitted illegal donation was incorrectly noted as a donation to a legitimate non-profit entity on the tax return.

Second, Trump’s son said his father intended to make that donation from his own funds and he signs a lot of checks, so it slipped through the cracks. Since Trump likes to use other people’s money, I have a hard time with that, but let’s set that aside for the important issue.

To me, the heart of the matter is the timing of a $25,000 donation to the Florida AG. Irrespective of its source, Trump sent a check to the AG at the time she was considering charges against Trump University. It has been noted while the check arrived four days after the article appeared, it was dated before the date of the article. I would not be surprised by gamesmanship, be it his backdating the check or being apprised of the forthcoming article or consideration of charges. I have no proof of this, but suggest that more investigation is at least warranted.

Yet, the AG’s decision to not press charges was made after the receipt of the check. Plus, Trump has bragged in debates, speeches and on the campaign trail about his buying influence with political donations, yet he denies it was done here.

Well, let me just say what I believe to be true, without proof, but on the basis of the above and his self-professed nature. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.