Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"If the facts are against you..."

There's an old maxim among lawyers.  It's probably been around for generations.  I've heard several different versions of it, but the one that's stuck in my mind (from witnessing legal proceedings where it was employed, loudly and vociferously, by defendants' counsel) is this:

  • If the facts are against you, argue the law.
  • If the law is against you, argue the facts.
  • If the facts and the law are against you, attack the character of the witness.

We're seeing precisely that approach play out now in Hillary Clinton's campaign.  Desperate to deflect attention from the renewed investigation into her e-mail shenanigans, she knows she doesn't have a leg to stand on when it comes to the investigation.  She's openly admitted that she was wrong to use a private e-mail server, in defiance of all relevant laws and regulations;  and the ongoing Wikileaks revelations are making the case against her even stronger.  In response, she's "attacking the character of the witness" - or, in this case, her opponent, Donald Trump.

Of course, Mr. Trump has enough skeletons in his own closet that he's eminently 'attackable' in that way.  Morally and ethically speaking, as an individual, there's probably not that much to choose between him and Hillary Clinton.  However, what can be distinguished between them is that he hasn't abused elected office and official powers for his own benefit.  He's used the laws to his advantage wherever possible, just as any entrepreneur or corporation will do - but that's not criminal.  He's certainly never operated a blatantly 'pay-for-play' scheme right out of the Secretary of State's office!

There appear to be two prongs to the Clinton campaign's latest attacks.  The first is to challenge Mr. Trump's tax avoidance methods, portraying them as shady or even outright dishonest.  However, even the New York Times, as staunch a Trump opponent as one could wish, had to admit in its latest muck-racking article about his taxes:

It is unclear who first glimpsed a way for Mr. Trump to dodge a huge tax bill. But the basic maneuver he used was essentially a new twist on a contentious strategy [that] corporations had been using for years to avoid taxes created by canceled debt.

There's more at the link.  Underlined text is my emphasis.

The NYT went on to call Mr. Trump's tax avoidance strategy "legally dubious", and cast all sorts of aspersions about it:  but the fact remains that the IRS accepted it, and did not reject Mr. Trump's arguments, then or later (although the law was later changed to stop further tax avoidance maneuvers of that kind).  As far as the authorities were concerned, he was in the clear.  Insinuations of shady tax tactics are therefore merely attempts to smear Mr. Trump's name and reputation.

(It's like Apple refusing to repatriate over $200 billion that it's holding in cash, overseas.  If it did, that money would be liable to US taxation.  Keeping it out of the IRS's hands isn't criminal, although it may be morally and/or ethically questionable for a US corporation like Apple to do so.  The law allows it to use that 'escape clause', so it's doing so, just like many other Fortune 500 companies, which are keeping more than $2 trillion as far away from the US taxman as they can.  Since the IRS can't tax that money, other US taxpayers [namely, you and I] have to pay higher taxes instead - hence the conundrum.  I, and many others, find this immoral and unethical;  but it's not illegal.  Apple and other big companies can [and do] make large donations to the 're-election campaigns' of our politicians . . . so guess who they favor when it comes to tax legislation?)

The second avenue of attack is to insinuate that Mr. Trump is somehow in bed with Russian interests, from President Putin, to oligarchs, to the Russian Mafia.  Again, this is on very shaky ground as far as the facts are concerned.  From another New York Times article:

Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.

. . .

Intelligence officials have said in interviews over the last six weeks that apparent connections between some of Mr. Trump’s aides and Moscow originally compelled them to open a broad investigation into possible links between the Russian government and the Republican presidential candidate. Still, they have said that Mr. Trump himself has not become a target. And no evidence has emerged that would link him or anyone else in his business or political circle directly to Russia’s election operations.

Again, more at the link.  Note how despite all its muckraking and insinuations of immoral, unethical and illegal shenanigans, the NYT is forced to acknowledge that there is no direct evidence whatsoever supporting its rumor-mongering.

I love the approach of SF novelist Robert A. Heinlein to this sort of thing.  As he had one of his prime characters, Lazarus Long, point out:

"What are the facts? Again and again and again - what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what "the stars foretell," avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable "verdict of history" - what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!"

In politics as in everything else, I couldn't agree more.  As we draw near to election day, and the campaigns ratchet up their rhetoric for the final stretch, keep that firmly in mind.  Never mind what the allegations are, never mind the insinuations, never mind the insults . . . what are the facts?  If there are no hard, demonstrable, independently verifiable facts to back up the rumor-mongering, ignore it.  They're lying.



Lab Guy said...

I'm not sure if they feds got any of that overseas money we would pay less. A dubious proposition at best. But the sheeple are too dumbed down to agitate for less government so we are always stuck with this crabs in the bucket mentality.

I would have to find the article from some years ago, but if the feds stuck to Constitutional functions and stuck to tariff revenues and fees and with some cuts, the federal government would not need an income tax.

Glen Filthie said...

Gee whiz, Pete. Grab a brain, will ya?

You shouldn't be mad at Apple or any other corporation that keeps its money away from the tax man. You and I would do the same and no bones about it. The Buckwheat Administration is using that money to turn America into a banana republic. Why - these days, the argument can be made that tax evasion is actually ethical.

You should be mad at the gubbermint that makes America a dismal prospect for investment.

When you start dealing with money on the scale that the Trumps and Clintons do, you accept corruption as an inevitable cost of doing business, just like taxes. Trump isn't going to change that. The saving grace I see in Trump is that he understands investment, and return on investment whereas the Clintons just don't. Most liberals don't.

Anonymous said...

This is where trump blew it in the debates (and still). When the BoB brought it up he should have hammered her by saying the he "followed the law" as any good businessman should. And then transition into her Not following the law, which of course would be a long discussion.

"Since the IRS can't tax that money, other US taxpayers [namely, you and I] have to pay higher taxes instead"

Yes, a very dubious statement. If the money suddenly came back I suppose we would all get a discount on our taxes? Yea, thats what I thought.

Anonymous said...

Taxation on the scale which the US Fed Gov does is ultra grand theft.
Back then they had law with certain loopholes. Trump and many others took advantage of those loopholes. I prefer the least amount of taxation needed by government and strict government compliance with expenditures but I would also like to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

If fed gov and politicians were all concerned about fair taxation and closing loop holes they would scrap the current tax codes write a simple code that says you had this much revenue for the year you pay this percentage, period. No deductions no loop holes.

According to the article trump went right up to the very edge of the law but he never was charged with anything. I bet there was an investigation though.

Inconsiderate Bastard said...

"...so it's doing so, just like many other Fortune 500 companies, which are keeping more than $2 trillion as far away from the US taxman as they can....I, and many others, find this immoral and unethical; but it's not illegal."

If not paying taxes on money that the law stipulates is not subject to taxation is "immoral and unethical," may we assume that to avoid being "immoral and unethical" the Grant household sends every spare penny to the IRS, above and beyond what the tax laws require?

Uncle Lar said...

Peter, what I find immoral and unethical is not just that our government is engaged in a massive transfer of wealth from those who earned it to those it deems deserving of having what was not earned bestowed on them. No, what is truly immoral and unethical is that obviously no regard is paid to the massive waste and inefficiency of government programs that has resulted in a national debt fast approaching 20 trillion dollars.
Consider that number, $20,000,000,000,000.00, money that the US has borrowed and is legally obligated to pay back with interest. The only saving grace is that through all sorts of machinations the bean counters have managed to keep interest on that debt down to around one percent, a piddling 200 billion bucks a year. With a more traditional interest rate of say 5 percent, the interest alone would be a trillion, or about a third of the gross revenues collected in a year by the government. Which is why every time the fed even considers raising the prime all those bean counters panic.
A smart manager would offer all those off shore holders of wealth a deal. Bring it home, pay say 10% on it, and we'll call it done. Might even cause the budget to break even for a year, and that much wealth infused into our system would inevitably generate a huge number of opportunities for new business and job creation.