Letter to a Trump Supporter #8: Hillary Clinton’s Character

This is the eighth in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

With two days left in this election season, I will dedicate my last two letters to the issue that has attracted the most attention in the race: the character of the candidates. Today, I will begin with Hillary Clinton.

My interlocutor sent me a series of “debate questions“ that Rush Limbaugh wanted to ask Secretary Clinton, along with a couple other conspiracy theories that are floating around the Internet.

Below is my response.

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Dear Mr. ——,

Thanks for sending this list of questions. Obviously, I don’t know how Hillary Clinton would answer them, but I can tell you what I would say if I were her:

(1.) When you were Secretary of State, why did you let a Russian company purchase half of the United States uranium reserves?

The Secretary of State cannot veto foreign purchases of American companies. Only the President has that power.

The deal you’re referring to, I assume, is when the Russian company JSC Atomoredzoloto purchased Uranium One, a Canadian firm. Their U.S. reserves account for 20 percent of America’s uranium production capacity, not “half.”

If you’re worried that Russia will somehow use that uranium to build bombs, they can’t. They’re not allowed to export it. It stays here, and we continue to regulate it as before. That’s why nine government agencies and two independent regulatory agencies approved the deal.

(2.) How much money was donated by Russian companies to your Foundation?

How much money has Donald Trump made in Russia? I’ll answer yours when he answers mine. All he has to do is release his tax records like I’ve done

If you’re implying that Russian donations were bribes, you’ll be relieved to learn that my Foundation has been thoroughly investigated by the press, and there has been no evidence of corruption.

The Trump Foundation, in contrast, actually has engaged in corrupt behavior. Donald Trump used $250,000 from his Foundation for personal business disputes. They conveniently forgot to register with the State of New York, leading to an investigation by the Attorney General. And the Trump Organization is actively expanding into the Middle East, Ukraine, and…surprise, surprise: Russia.

Somehow no one ever asks Donald Trump about all the profits he’s planning to reap in Russia. All they care about is the money I raised to help sick kids in Africa.

Maybe that explains why Mr. Trump has professed his admiration for Vladimir Putin, why he hired a campaign manager who advised the top Putin ally in Ukraine, why his foreign policy advisor on Russia has spent a career working with their oil and gas companies, and why Mr. Putin’s media outlets are actively supporting Mr. Trump.

Given all those facts, maybe you can identify the author of this quote: “Russians make up a disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

You think it was me? Or maybe my husband? Or my daughter?

Nope. It was Donald Trump Jr.

(3.) When you worked for the State Department, how did you conduct Secret Classified business without using a secure email server?

Because I was careless. Out of tens of thousands of emails that the FBI investigated, they only found three with classification markers. They concluded that there’s no evidence that I intentionally mishandled the information.

In hindsight, it was a mistake to follow Colin Powell’s advice to use a private email account. I assume Donald Trump plans to thoroughly investigate Secretary Powell’s private emails if he is elected president.

(4.) What kind of assault weapons were you funneling through Benghazi to ISIS in Syria before Ambassador Stevens was murdered?

We didn’t funnel arms through Benghazi to ISIS. We funneled them through our ally Qatar to Libyan rebels to overthrow the murderous dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, the exact same strategy that Republican administrations have been using for decades. Perhaps you recall the Iran-Contra scandal orchestrated by Ronald Reagan?

But I digress. We eventually learned that Qatar was giving some of the arms to Islamic militants, and we urged them not to do so.

It’s basically impossible to prevent this from happening, though, since there are Islamic militants on both sides of most fights.

Either you work with them to defeat your enemies, or you retreat from the Middle East entirely. Donald Trump would face the exact same problem if he wanted to, in his words, “utterly destroy ISIS.”

(5.) When you left the White House after your husband’s last term as president, why did you steal $200,000 worth of furniture, China, and artwork that you were forced to return?

We didn’t steal anything. We returned some gifts when the National Park Service decided that they were gifts to the government, not to us, although they were donated during my husband’s administration.

(6.) When you were Secretary of State, why did you solicit contributions from foreign governments for the Clinton Foundation after you promised President Obama you would not?

I never made such a promise, and there’s no evidence that I solicited contributions from foreign governments while I was Secretary of State. The Foundation did receive foreign contributions at the time, but I was not involved.

(8.) Why do you and your husband claim to contribute millions of dollars to charity for a tax write-off when it goes to your family foundation that gives out less than 15% of the funds you collect, and you use the balance to support yourself tax-free?

Unlike Donald Trump, I don’t use my charity to “support myself.” So, you just made that up.

And my family foundation does not give “out less than 15% of the funds“ it collects. That’s a lie too.

You really want to talk about who runs their foundation better? Alright, you asked for it…

Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities based on financial health and accountability/transparency, gives the Clinton Foundation their highest rating. Charity Watch, a similar organization that uses an A-F scale, gives the Clinton Foundation an “A.” Guidestar, yet another nonprofit watchdog, awarded the Clinton Foundation with its “transparency seal.”

The Trump Foundation, on the other hand, doesn’t even qualify for such ratings. Why? Because, as Guidestar says, “the Trump Foundation’s approach would certainly not meet the standard of focused, proactive grant making.”

Oh, and for what it’s worth, Guidestar also says, “the Clinton family has — at least over the last several years — donated more money (and at a far higher proportion of their wealth) than the Trump family.”

(9.) Why are you unable to account for $6 billion of State Department funds that seem to have disappeared while you were Secretary of State?

We were not “unable to account for $6 billion.” The Inspector General found that the contract files were incomplete. He specifically wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post to clarify the misconception. None of the money is missing. Some of the paperwork was just inadequate, a problem that happens in every large organization in the world.

(10.) Why did you say you were broke when you left the White House, but you purchased a $2 million home, built an addition for the Secret Service, and charge the taxpayers of the United States rent in an amount equal to the entire mortgage?

I should not have said “dead broke.” That was a regrettable phrase, though not as offensive as when Donald Trump bragged about profiting from American families losing their homes in the last recession.

What I meant was that our liabilities exceeded our assets, meaning we were technically insolvent because we were deeply in debt. The only reason we got a mortgage was because the bank knew we would earn more income after we left the White House.

We have never charged the taxpayers any rent. That’s a ridiculous lie. On the contrary, the Secret Service offered to pay rent, as is customary in these situations, and we refused to take it.

(11.) How is it that your daughter, Chelsea, can afford to buy a $10.5 million apartment in New York City shortly after you left the White House?

Chelsea and her husband bought the apartment thirteen years after we left the White House, not “shortly after.” She has earned a six-figure salary at NBC News, as have George W. Bush’s daughter Jenna (at NBC News) and John McCain’s daughter Megan (at MSNBC and Fox News). But most of their $15 million net worth comes from her husband, who is a successful investment banker.

In other words, they didn’t get any of that money from us…unlike Donald Trump’s children, who are each worth about $150 million thanks to their father’s company.

(12.) Speaking of Chelsea, how is it that her first paying job, in her late 20s, was for more than the salary of the President of the United States? Was there a quid pro quo of any sort involved?

I’m glad you mentioned the salary of the President of the United States. The President earns $400,000. The average Fortune 500 CEO earns $16 million. Since Republicans are always complaining that public workers are overpaid, they should be very proud of the fact that our Presidents have been paid so little compared to their peers, despite managing an organization that is far larger than any Fortune 500 company.

But, to your point, if there was a quid pro quo, it wasn’t a very good one. Harvard’s media experts scoured all the major news reports and found that I received far more negative coverage than any of the other candidates, and Donald Trump’s coverage was unusually positive.

(13.) Why did you lose your law license? Why did your husband lose his?

I didn’t lose my law license. That’s a complete lie. I stopped practicing because I was busy being a U.S. Senator.

My husband’s law license was suspended for lying under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Of course, Donald Trump has also committed infidelity, and he has lied more than any other presidential candidate in modern history, according to expert fact-checkers.

(14.) Why did you lie to the American people about the terrorist attack in Benghazi but managed to tell the truth to your daughter the same night it happened?

I never lied to the American people about the terrorist attack in Benghazi. You can read the transcripts. I announced the attack that night. I did not confirm who perpetrated the attack. I speculated in an email to my daughter that it might be “an al Qaeda-like group,” but I didn’t have enough information to confirm that speculation to the public until later. This is standard protocol, as well as just being good sense and good morals not to accuse people without solid evidence.

(15.) Why were multiple commando teams given the order to “stand down” when the diplomatic compound was attacked in Benghazi?

There was no “stand down” order. The CIA annex, which was a mile away from the compound, told the security team to wait a half hour until they figured out who was attacking the compound. They didn’t want to accidentally get into a fight with friendly militia, which is a real possibility in these situations. They were not told to “stand down.” That’s a completely different kind of order, where they’re not on alert anymore. They were on alert, they just waited for confirmation that it was an enemy attack. It’s standard protocol.

And to be very clear: It was the CIA annex that made this call, not the White House or the State Department. Neither Barack Obama nor I had been alerted yet. When they did finally call us, we ordered them to do everything in their power to save the Ambassador and his team.

(16.) Why did you ignore pleas from Benghazi for more security? Why did you send Ambassador Chris Stevens into harm’s way?

Why did Ronald Reagan send 800 Marines into harm’s way in Lebanon in 1982? Why did he leave them there after militants bombed the embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people? Why did a Congressional investigation find that “very serious errors in judgment” led to the death of 241 Americans six months later?

Why did George W. Bush ignore multiple warnings that Osama bin Laden was going to attack the United States before 9/11?

And why didn’t Republicans investigate those mistakes as relentlessly as they have investigated Benghazi?

Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House majority leader, gave one answer: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”

If you actually want to know the facts, here they are:

First, we actually did make security improvements in the year before the attack.

Second, I didn’t send Ambassador Stevens to Benghazi. According to two former ambassadors, “In-country travel is solely at the discretion of the ambassador, and he did not need to seek Department of State approval.”

And third, the chief counsel of the Republican-led investigation committee said “nothing could have affected what occurred in Benghazi.” He told my counterpart Leon Panetta, the Defense Secretary at the time, “I think you ordered the right forces… I don’t disagree with the actions you took, the recommendations you made, and the decisions you directed.”

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I don’t think there’s any doubt that Hillary Clinton has made mistakes in her career. (Who hasn’t?) But the evidence points in a completely different direction than these lies and character attacks suggest.

That, of course, is how conspiracies get started. They begin with one little grain of truth, especially if it’s a grain of truth that upsets a lot of people, and then they draw ridiculous, false conclusions that people will believe because they want to believe it.

The trick is not to let our beliefs about a person get in the way of judging them fairly based on the facts.

Best regards,
Anthony

Letter to a Trump Supporter #2: Path to Citizenship

This is the second in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

In keeping with the immigration theme, he sent me a video of Bill Clinton, as president, vowing to increase deportations. I responded:

Yes, President Clinton said that, and his administration did conduct a lot of deportations. But you know who ordered more deportations than any other president? Barack Obama.

Anyone who tells you that today’s Democratic Party is trying to encourage undocumented immigration is lying to you. The Democrats just don’t engage in race-baiting and fear-mongering, so they don’t get the headlines.

To this, my friend asked, “Do you agree to limit the number coming or agree to increase as Hillary wants?”

Below is my response.

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Dear Mr. ——,

Good question, but I might need to clarify it a bit.

Hillary Clinton has never said that she wants to increase the number of immigrants coming into the United States without limit. Her website lists her immigration proposals, which don’t say anything about an unlimited increase in immigration.

Current immigration law does have annual limits, and Secretary Clinton has not proposed to change them.

There are a couple things you might be referring to.

She has said that she wants to allow 65,000 Syrian refugees into the country. This would be a one-time increase representing 0.02% of the American population. That is a cap, of course, and a very small one at that.

She has also said that she would give undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, but that’s only for people who have already immigrated here. So it wouldn’t change the number of immigrants at all.

This is not a particularly liberal stance. In fact, the leaders of both parties supported a pathway to citizenship in 2013 when they tried to pass immigration reform.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning news outlet ProPublica recently published a fascinating behind-the-scenes investigation into the failure of that effort. The Senate had passed a bill. The House was negotiating a bill. They had gotten 140 Republicans onboard. They were literally celebrating that a majority of both parties were ready to vote yes…and then Eric Cantor, the number-two Republican in power, was defeated in the primary by a conservative challenger who campaigned against his support for immigration reform. The Republican reformers all realized they were in danger of losing their seat too, so they abandoned the negotiation and the bill died.

If extremists like Donald Trump had not been allowed to hijack the debate, we probably would have passed immigration reform.

It even had the support of Sean Hannity, who said, “It’s simple to me to fix it. If people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done.”

And Paul Ryan, who said, “I want to do it because it’s the right thing to do, because I’m Catholic, and my Christian values say we cannot have millions of people in second-tier status.”

So, yes, to answer your question, I agree with Sean Hannity, I agree with Paul Ryan, and I agree with Hillary Clinton. Mass deportation is cruel and infeasible. A pathway to citizenship is in keeping with American values, Christian values, and common sense.

Best regards,
Anthony

Don’t Attack Big Government Until You’ve Done the Math

“We have to get rid of Big Government,” said a friend of mine recently, as if it was obvious. I looked around the table and saw only nodding heads.

So I asked my friend: What exactly do you want to get rid of? Social Security? Oh no, she said.

Medicare? No. Medicaid? No. The Children’s Health Insurance Program? No. The Defense Department? No.

Then you don’t want to get rid of Big Government.

Those five programs make up two-thirds of the federal budget. They are Big Government, and the American people love them — even most of the people who say, “We have to get rid of Big Government.”

Of course, that’s not what she meant. When she said “Big Government,” she wasn’t talking about those programs.

She was talking about Obamacare, which will account for 3 percent of the federal budget in the coming decade. She was talking about food stamps, which comprise another 2 percent of the budget. She was talking about welfare, which takes up a whopping 0.4 percent.

I hope she wasn’t talking about the Department of Education, but even if she was, its budget is roughly the same as the amount allocated to food stamps.

So anyone who thinks they can “get rid of Big Government” by attacking these programs is either uninformed, lying, or very bad at math.

It’s exactly this kind of misunderstanding that allows politicians to foist their radical agendas on an unwilling public.

Witness the “sequester” debate. Why is the government planning to cut its spending by $1 trillion over the next decade, starting with an $85 billion cut to this year’s budget that takes effect on March 1? Because people are somehow under the impression that it has grown too big.

It’s hard to square that belief with this week’s report from the Congressional Budget Office. It shows the size of our federal government relative to the overall economy, and believe it or not, it’s been shrinking for many years!

This year, the federal government will spend 22 percent of our nation’s income, the same as it did in 1981. In fact, throughout most of Ronald Reagan’s two terms in office, federal spending was higher, as a percent of our nation’s income, than it is today.

It wasn’t until Bill Clinton came into office that our government made a consistent effort to shrink the size of government. Remember Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union? “The era of big government is over.” It sure was. By the end of his term, the federal government spent less money, relative to the size of the overall economy, than at any time since the mid-1960s.

George W. Bush reversed that trend, but even Bush’s government paled in comparison to Reagan’s. In 2007, federal spending was 19.7 percent of our nation’s income, a far cry from the peak of 23.5 percent in 1983.

That’s a quarter of a century during which our federal government was smaller than it used to be.

That ended with the Great Recession, of course. When Bush left office, he handed over the reins to 24.4 percent of our nation’s spending.

But most of that increase was temporary. Just as economists predicted, that number has fallen, and it will continue to fall as the economy improves and grows faster than the government.

And that’s why the sequester is a misguided attempt to fix an illusory problem. The federal government has not gotten bigger in the last three decades, and it’s only getting smaller.

There is one part of the budget that’s been growing, however, and that’s health care. As medical costs grow faster than inflation, so do the budgets of Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP. If you want to slow the long-term growth of the government, that’s the problem you have to solve.

But don’t take it out on innocent programs that have nothing to do with the budget deficit and even less to do with so-called “Big Government.”

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This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

At Times I Wonder

by Norman Horowitz

Growing up in the thirties, my family lived in an apartment building in the Kingsbridge Road section in the Bronx.

Playing baseball in the streets was not possible for a variety of reasons, so we played a street game that I loved: “stickball.” There were a variety of forms to the game, but you always needed a ball called a “Spaldeen” and a stick, usually borrowed from my mother’s carpet sweeper. This all worked out well…except that the police would sneak up on our game and confiscate our sticks. We would post lookouts to guard against police intervention, and when a cop was spotted, the warning cry was: “Chickey, the cops!”

I always wondered about this, and still think about it today: Why did the cops do this?

In light of the Petraeus “scandal,” I have to ask the same question about “the morality police” who judge what sexual behavior is acceptable.

And now a small joke to make a point. [Stop reading if you’re offended by foul language.]

Those who have died throughout the world the previous day are lined up outside the pearly gates to be interviewed by St. Peter, who will determine if they will be assigned to Heaven or Hell.

As the teeming throng waits, a roar passes through the line. The people are joyous!

Someone asks what has happened and one man replies, “Thank God, thank God, fucking doesn’t count.”

Just exactly who makes these rules concerning sex?

I admit, men who are sexually aroused have a tendency to do the stupidest things. However, in my experience, sexual transgressions have nothing at all to do with the effectiveness of a person’s work.

In my opinion, we suffer from a collective societal craziness that accepts going to war for questionable reasons in Iraq, killing and wounding so many, yet questions the appropriateness of a grown man having consensual sex with a woman not his wife while married to someone else.

We appear to have forgiven Clinton, bring back and forgive Petraeus!

The Great “Fiscal Responsibility” Hoax

You’re probably worried about the federal budget deficit. Seven out of every ten American voters say the deficit plays a “very important” role in deciding whom to vote for.

And you probably think that Mitt Romney is the candidate who would do a better job of reducing the deficit. In this category, voters favor him over Obama, 51 to 37. That’s a big gap, considering the national polls are a statistical tie.

Even the South Florida Sun-Sentinel believes the hype. One of the reasons they gave for endorsing Romney was to “exercise…fiscal discipline” and “get government spending under control.”

They’ve been had. You all have.

The belief that Republicans are more fiscally conservative than Democrats is an old one. It’s so deeply ingrained in the American myth that it’s hard to know where it started. But it’s completely, factually, undeniably wrong — and has been so for awhile.

In their book Presimetrics: What the Facts Tell Us About How the Presidents Measure Up On the Issues We Care About, economist Mike Kimel and journalist Michael E. Kanell calculate the change in government spending under every president from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush.

They found that government spending, relative to the size of the economy, increased much faster under Republican administrations than under Democratic ones. George W. Bush presided over a greater increase in government spending than any president since Lyndon Johnson, and George H.W. Bush wasn’t far behind. Bill Clinton, in contrast, was the only president since Eisenhower to actually reduce government spending. Even Reagan didn’t do that.

Since Mitt Romney has promised to increase the Pentagon budget by $2 trillion over the next decade, I find it hard to believe that he would be any different from his Republican forebears.

Kimel and Kanell also report how the budget deficit fared under each president. Here’s where the “fiscal responsibility” myth really falls apart: The Republicans increased the deficit, while the Democrats reduced it!

The least “fiscally responsible” administrations were Bush Jr., Bush Sr., Ford, and Nixon. The most deficit reduction came under Clinton and — believe it or not — Jimmy Carter.

In fact, the only presidents in this group who added to our national debt burden were Reagan and the two Bush’s. Everyone else presided over a decline in government debt, relative to the size of the economy.

For goodness sake, they said so straight to your face.

“I am not worried about the deficit,” said Reagan. “It is big enough to take care of itself.”

“Deficits don’t matter,” said Dick Cheney.

So, when economists complain over and over and over that Romney’s math doesn’t add up, they’re not just making an academic point. When Obama asks him how he’d pay for a $5 trillion tax cut, the fact that he can’t answer — the fact that every fact-checker in the known universe has said that his tax plan will blow up the budget deficit — is a flashing red warning sign that he will do what Republican presidents have been doing for half a century.

Which brings me to his opponent, Barack Obama.

On January 7, 2009, two weeks before Obama was sworn into office, the Congressional Budget Office reported that George W. Bush was bequeathing a budget deficit of $1.2 trillion. This year, the deficit is $1.3 trillion.

In other words, 92 percent of the deficit that everyone blames on Obama was actually inherited from his predecessor.

Here are the facts: In Reagan’s first term, government spending grew 8.7 percent per year. In his second term, it grew 4.9 percent per year. Under Bush Sr., 5.4 percent per year. Under Clinton’s two terms, 3.2 percent and 3.9 percent. Under Bush Jr., 7.3 percent and 8.1 percent.

Got all those numbers? Okay. Brace yourself. Under Obama: 1.4 percent.

Our current budget deficit has nothing to do with out-of-control Democratic spending and everything to do with a massive recession, tax cuts, two wars, and a scare campaign that Republicans have been successfully waging for decades to cover up their serial fiscal irresponsibility. Whether you let them fool you again is entirely up to you.

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This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.