David Cay Johnston

Investigative journalist and author

David Cay Johnston (born December 24, 1948) is an American investigative journalist and author specializing in economics and tax issues. He won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting, and from 2009 to 2016 he was a Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at Syracuse University, Martin J. Whitman School of Management and College of Law, teaching tax, property, and regulatory law of the ancient world. From 2011 to 2012 he was a columnist for Reuters, writing, and producing video commentaries on worldwide issues of tax, accounting, economics, public finance and business. In recent years he has also written for Al Jazeera America and Al Jazeera English, and is the board president of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. (IRE).

David Cay Johnston, 2016


  • [T]hroughout his adult life Trump sought out—and worked closely with—more than a score of criminals, including Mafia associates, Russian mob associates, violent felons, con artists, swindlers, and most significant of all, the embezzler and mob associate Joseph Weichselbaum, a thrice-convicted felon. ...[W]hen Trump was the big man in Atlantic City, he got his helicopters to bring his high-rollers in and out of town through a company formed by Weichselbaum. ...Spy ...reported that Weichselbaum ...personally piloted the Trumps [in the Ivana, Trump’s personal helicopter]. ...Weichselbaum also had another business: importing drugs from Colombia...
    • "The Drug Trafficker Donald Trump Risked His Casino Empire to Protect" (Oct. 19, 2016) "The Donald and his sister, federal judge Maryanne Trump Barry, both took helicopter flights with a guy who had a lot of ways to get people high" Daily Beast.
  • By deciding not to implement a rule to reduce the chances of truck drivers and train engineers' falling asleep on the job, Trump's Transportation Department has put at risk the lives of those workers as well as the lives of families traveling on our nations highways and trains. And Trump appointed to the Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch, a judge who ruled that a company has the right to fire a worker who chose not to freeze to death on the job.
    • Donald Trump’s Favorite Drug Trafficker and Other Unsung Scandals of the Presidency From Hell (March 13, 2018) A [Mark Hertsgaard] conversation with David Cay Johnston, who has investigated Trump’s shady dealings for decades, The Nation.
  • Almost two cents of every dollar reported as losses one year by everyone in the United States, were reported by Donald Trump. ...He's a terrible business man. His business model is not to get an enterprise, to nurture it, to grow it, to make it more profitable over time. His business model is the same as a mob bust-out. ...[S]queeze all the cash out... don't pay your vendors, try to cheat as best you can your employees, don't pay the bankers... Trump once said, "I borrowed money knowing I wouldn't pay it back," and then leave the carcass and go on to the next deal. ...Trump's business model is to rip off one person after another who gets involved with him, thinking he will make them wealthy, while he is destroying their wealth.
    • "Billion Dollar Loser: NYT Report on Trump’s Taxes & Massive Losses May Prompt Fraud Investigation" (May 8, 2019) DemocracyNow! interview with Amy Goodman.
The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich—and Cheat Everybody Else
  • No serious coverage of taxes is possible without reading the journal Tax Notes published by Tax Analysts, a nonprofit enterprise whose beneficiaries include reporters.
  • [T]axes are at the core of our democracy.
  • If you have heard about companies using a Bermuda mailbox to escape American taxes or that the IRS audits the poor more than the rich or that Enron paid no taxes or that executives have amassed massive untaxed fortunes or that the retired chief of General Electric had a free corporate jet, then you have already had a taste for some of the more shocking stories that I have come across. ...This is not just about facts, figures and statistics.
  • [S]ound bytes of politicians in both parties bear as much connection to the reality of the tax system as my... grandson's belief in Santa.
  • [O]ur tax system now levies the poor, the middle class and even the upper middle class to subsidize the rich...
  • In every place where there is no real tax system, such as Honduras or Afghanistan, there is no widespread wealth.
  • [T]he majority of Americans are being duped into supplementing the incomes and extravagant lifestyles of the rich and powerful. ...[O]ur current tax system is manipulated for profit by the wealthy and well positioned.
  • Democrats and Republicans alike have turned the tax system into a vehicle not just to finance government but to finance social change. For the last three decades, it... has been weighing down the already deep pockets of the super rich while just weighing down everyone else.
  • A government that takes 90 cents out of each dollar above a threshold, as... in the Eisenhower years, is deciding to limit the wealth that people can accumulate... Likewise, a government that taxes the poor on their first dollar of wages, as the United States does with the Social Security and Medicare taxes, is deciding to limit or eliminate the ability of those at the bottom... to save... and improve their lot in life.
  • Congress lets business owners, investors and landlords play by one set of rules, which are filed with opportunities to hide income, fabricate deductions and reduce taxes. Congress requires wage earners to operate under another, much harsher set of rules in which every dollar of income... is reported to the government, and taxes are withheld... to make sure [they] pay in full.
  • Members of Congress routinely vote on tax bills that they have never read, much less understood even on a superficial level. Sanford J. Schlesinger... says that "there hasn't been a member of Congress with a comprehensive understanding of the laws since Wilbur Mills..."
  • For almost three decades corporate profits have been growing one third faster that corporate taxes.
  • Many journalists rely for expert quotes on a dozen well-financed nonprofits that exist in Washington to promote policies that primarily benefit their rich donors.
  • The super rich... largely control what the government knows about their incomes. And their friends in Congress have slashed budgets for inspecting the tax returns...
  • Just as there is an underground economy of gardeners and handymen and petty merchants who get paid in cash and pay little or no taxes, there is also an underground economy among the super rich that lets them understate their true income and overstate their tax deductions.
  • For... the political donor class, the system is being remade to serve their interests while disguising the changes as benefits for every American.
  • [T]he Internal Revenue Service in 2003 released its first public analysis of tax returns filed by the 400 highest income Americans... from 1992 to 2000. ...the federal income tax burden on Americans overall rose by 18 percent, it fell by 16 percent for the top 400, whose incomes soared.
  • [I]n 1997... Congress passed what its sponsors promoted as a tax cut for the middle class... Buried in that law were many tax breaks for the rich... notably a sharp reduction... on long term capital gains, the source of two thirds of the incomes of the top 400. ...For years the IRS found big tax evaders by looking into people whose reported income did not seem sufficient to support their lifestyle... But the 1997 law stopped such inquiries. ...Lee Shepherd ...said the law "should be called the mobsters and drug dealers tax relief act of 1997." ...1997 cuts for the rich were not enough ...Under ...President Bush in 2001 ...their income going to taxes would slip further ...
  • After the Sixteenth Amendment... the federal government... enacted a regime to tax incomes, gifts and estates... with the explicit promise that the basic means of sustaining life would not be taxed. The original tax regime applied only to the economic elite, to... "surplus" incomes. ...[I]ncome from capital was taxed more heavily ...in the belief that it was morally offensive to take more from money earned by the sweat of one's brow ...
  • To pay for World War I... [t]he estate tax and the gift tax, which apply to wealth, were expanded and the income tax came to apply to a larger, but still minute, percentage of Americans.
  • While only a minority of people was taxed during World War II, the politicians got a taste of the huge revenues... by expanding the tax base. After the war... the income tax was steadily expanded until it applied to most Americans...
  • Inflation, combined with the end of real growth in wages beginning in 1973, created... "bracket creep" that moved people into higher tax brackets even if... real incomes were unchanged.
  • [L]ess than a century after its adoption, the tax system is being turned on its head. Since at least 1983 it has become the explicit, but unstated, policy... to let the richest Americans pay a smaller portion of their incomes in taxes and to defer more of their taxes... a stealth tax cut, while collecting more in taxes from... the middle class.

Free Lunch (2007)

How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill)
  • Throughout his writings Smith warned of the damage done when government interferes in the market by guaranteeing profits or by handing out gifts. This damage can exceed that caused when government taxes unwisely or imposes rules that needlessly obstruct commerce.
  • [F]or the past quarter century, policies adopted in the name of Adam Smith... that supposedly strengthen the invisible hand guiding the market, have weighed down our economy while simultaneously stuffing the pockets of those among the rich and powerful who solicited them or... were just standing in the right place at a lucrative time. This is our story, not of one free lunch, but of the many banquets at which billions and billions of your dollars are being served to the richest among us.
  • For the bottom 90 percent of Americans... the vast majority, annual income has been on a long, mostly downhill slide for more than three decades. ...Even with three decades of economic expansion, the vast majority has to get by on about $75 less each week than... a generation earlier...
  • Of each dollar people earned in 2005, the top 10 percent got 48.5¢... the greatest share of income pie since 1929, just before the Roaring Twenties collapsed into the Great Depression.
  • This growing concentration of income at the top... resembles the distribution of income found in three other major countries: Brasil, Mexico, and Russia. ...They all have growing, and seemingly intractable, poverty at the bottom. ...These four countries are also societies in which adults have the right to vote, but real political power is wielded by a relatively narrow, and rich, segment of the population.
  • Rewriting the economic rules... in the past few decades has been done under the banner of "deregulation" and its promise that less government means more economic growth. The term itself is a misnomer. No society is free from regulation. Everything has rules...
  • In the past quarter century... new rules... have weakened and even destroyed consumer protections while increasing the power of the already powerful. ...[T]he rules affecting who wins and who loses economically have been quietly and subtly rewritten.
  • The rich and their lobbyists have taken firm control of the levers of power in Washington and state capitals while remaking the rules in their own interest. They have also imbued private organizations with the power to make rules that few outside the process understand. These same people... [are] the primary source of campaign donations that put politicians in office and keep them there.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. said he had a dream that one day his four children would be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. ...Today we often value people less by their character than by the contents of their wallet. ...The pursuit of ever more financial zeros... has... produced a moral breakdown... twisting our culture and our values in ways that tear at the fabric of our society.
  • [P]residents of companies have gone from apologizing when they had to lay off workers to boasting of the riches... obtained through mass firings. ...[I]nvestors ...owe their wealth ...to buying companies in deals that required destroying lives and careers
  • To the addicted, money is like cocaine: Too much is never enough.
  • At the same time that the rules have been rewritten to favor the already rich, new rules have been written that ensure harsh treatment for the poor... Coping with the foul effects of poverty costs us trillions of dollars a year... Poverty wastes minds and spirits, robbing all of us of opportunity. ...It makes us less trusting, less willing to see ourselves as one people...
  • Usury laws that protected consumers against rapacious lenders existed until 1978. Now they are gone because of a Supreme Court decision. ...[O]ur government has set forth onerous new rules that reward those who prey on the poor. ...These lenders, or their fronts, can now charge rates and impose penalties that were illegal, even criminal, a generation ago.
  • The result? In the past 25 years, one American family in seven has sought refuge in federal bankruptcy court. Exhaustive research by Elizabeth Warren... and her associates... has proven that the vast majority of people seek refuge... after any two of three events combine: divorce, job loss, or major medical problems.
  • The impulse to increase profits can blind men to risk, especially when those at risk are strangers. Society imposes rules on corporate behavior to protect public safety in the face of baser impulses. These rules require enforcement...
  • In Britain only about 18 people a year die at rail crossings. ...Even taking into account that America has five times as many people... the death rate at crossings is four times that of Britain.
  • Since the imperfect rules of the marketplace actually reward dangerous risk taking, the only thing that could prevent this lethal gamble is effective government regulation.
  • [R]ailroads are by far the most deadly form of commercial transportation in the country. ...Measure deaths by distance traveled... and trains are 52 times more deadly than trucks. Trains kill 130 people per 100 million miles traveled, compared with 2.5 deaths in big-rig truck accidents and 1.9 deaths in plane crashes.
  • The government agencies, without nearly enough money to oversee safety... write superficial reports, and when it comes to accidents at rail crossings, they thoroughly investigate only 4 out of 3,000 cases.
  • Economists have a term for situations in which someone gets rewards but has little or no incentive to avoid risk: a moral hazard. ...Those who occupy the executive suite and gamble millions of dollars on the lives of others are rarely seen as engaged in morally hazardous conduct. Yet reward without risk is a form of moral hazard that blinds us to the consequences of our acts.
  • In 2006 the trade deficit with China reached $232 billion. ...more than $60 per month for every man, woman and child in America. ...In 2004 when the trade deficit... was $161 billion, it was... more than the $126 billion of income taxes paid by the bottom 75% of Americans.
  • In 2006... China, Japan, Canada, and Mexico—accounted for 60 percent of our worldwide trade deficit of $764 billion.

David Cay Johnston; How The One Percent Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (Jun 23, 2009)

Part 1 of an interview hosted by Lawence R. Velvel, Dean, Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. a source.
  • A lot of people look at the world as they're born into it and assume, like Dr. Pangloss that it must needs be that this is the way that God intended the world to be. It is nowhere written down that we will have our liberties, that we will have the freedoms that we have come to know.
  • There is a never-ending struggle against the need for the state to be strong enough to be functional and to have a civilized society, and at the same time, its desire to crush those who stand in the way.
  • Prior to our Constitutional Bill of Rights... the historic problem for the inconvenient individual was predation by the state. If the king doesn't like you, throw him in Château d'If, [if] the king wants your daughter when she's a virgin and you don't want to hand her over, cut the guy's throat.
  • [O]ne of the great geniuses of our Constitution was the recognition that the liberties of the people depended on a certain set of standards. Habeas corpus being a crucial one, the ability to speak your mind, the ability to follow or not follow religion as you chose... [W]hen we put these in place, we had this flourishing society. It's not perfect. We've got lots of things wrong in our society. Government has problems... but there is no civilization, there is no liberty, without government.
  • [T]o the extent that people have said... "I don't care what the government's doing..." politicians fall under the influence of other people... in our age they have fallen heavily under the influence of their [political] donors. ...We have a government that is increasingly estranged from the needs of the people, and focused on the needs of the moneyed people and large corporations.
  • I want to do things that are beyond the scope of the daily newspaper, as good as it is and as important as it is... beyond the scope of even a great newspaper like The New York Times.
  • One of the criticisms I've... gotten is "You're a reporter, what are you doing writing with a moral tone?" ...[Y]es, this is a book about political culture and morality. I cite Adam Smith, the Bible and Andrew Mellon as moral authorities in this book. ...Andrew Mellon says that people are more important than capital and people have to be thought of first, not capital... that's not our culture today. All throughout the Bible, the most frequently denounced evil is taking from the poor to give to the rich. The Bible tells us in both books that your society will come to ruin if you do this.
  • Balzac said 200 years ago that "behind every great fortune lies a crime," but we know how to create wealth now: the Industrial Revolution created wealth, the Information revolution and our ability to manipulate cyberspace, and to develop concepts and structures in mathematics, and elsewhere. We can create real wealth. So, per say, being wealthy is now not the result of taking from those with less; and yet this historic problem has come roaring back... under the guise of conservatism.
  • Conservatism... means we take the things that we know work and we keep... and maintain them. ...[I]f you want to try something new... you're careful... you're cautious... you're skeptical of it. If it turns out it works we'll try incorporating that, but we have a great skepticism about doing that. Well, that's not what we got. We got radical ideas that no one else in the world is doing. ...[T]hese other countries are having fewer problems, and their middle class is better off, because they didn't do these radical things. They were in fact, conservative. Now the things they did, we might view as liberal, but they were conservative in hanging on to those things.
  • [W]hat were we promised in 1980 when Ronald Reagan asked his famous question, "Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?" ...I'm here asking the question, "Are you better off than you were in 1980?" He said we'll have less taxes. ...Taxes [and government spending] as a share of the economy are the same as they were back then. ...[W]hat we've gotten instead is all this government debt.
  • [A]ssuming that all the... interest on the federal debt is paid, just from the individual income tax, all the income taxes that you pay from January through the end of April, just go to pay interest on the national debt; and since 86% of federal tax revenues come from labor (and 14% from capital); that means that we explicitly have a policy now to tax labor [in order] to transfer [that revenue] to [privately held] capital.
  • So we didn't get less government... that we were promised. Next we were told we should have deregulation. There's no such thing as deregulation. Everything has rules. ...What we got were new regulations... written by Enron and the railroads and the banks, and they eliminated [or reduced] consumer protections. They took away enforcement of the existing laws. They benefited this political donor class, who were pursuing their own self-interest.
  • I don't have any problem with people pursuing their own self-interest. It's just [that] there has not been a push-back from the rest of society, as we have seen unions, which helped push back, decline; and other areas where there was push-back, decline. The... churches were involved with this, and we've seen them decline.
  • We were promised that... markets would provide solutions. A lot of my book is a defense of markets. The Supreme Court says a market is where independent parties, neither under duress or coercion, and with knowledge of the facts, come to an agreement on a price. That's not what a lot of our new markets do. We now have markets designed to thwart competition... Adam Smith's invisible hand of the market, in which there are lots of sellers, and smart consumers who can compare prices, and this drives prices down... to the lowest level at which businesses can continue to operate. We've replaced that, through government policies, with practices that artificially restrict competition... raise prices... inflate profits; all under the guise of conservatism, and "the markets will solve our problems."
  • Fundamentally I argue in Free Lunch what's happened is, that a narrow segment of our society, large corporations which are immortal and amoral... They're necessary, they're important, they are great producers of wealth, but there's reasons that you want to regulate and control entities that are both amoral; their purpose is to maximize return to capital, which is a perfectly good thing to do, but they have no other obligation... [T]hey are immortal. Unless they mess up in the marketplace they go on forever, unlike you and I... Unless we have rules that govern their conduct, they can do enormous damage to our society; and we have had a massive effort to collect subsidies from the government, to get rid of government employees and replace them with private sector workers who typically cost twice as much. So the federal work force has gone down... but the number of people who are paid by the federal government to work is going up; and the cost per... labor-hour is going up enormously. ...Unlike creating a bureaucracy ...empire-building bureaucrats, now you have a corporation that makes campaign contributions to encourage more of this ...and more contracts and... money flowing their direction.
  • So all of the things we were promised, most... haven't happened. There have been some good things. Airfares have fallen... There have been some benefits. It is not black and white, but my focus is on these areas where we now have massive transfers of wealth and income from those with less, to the politically connected few. Billions and billions of dollars being handed up the ladder.
  • The East India Company... is... fundamental to the American Revolution and it is taught the wrong way in American schools. ...There's a wonderful book called The Boston Tea Party by Professor [Labaree]... where he... got the British records... and the American records. ...It was a protest against a tax exemption ...a government tax favor to the politically connected friends of King George who owned this royal monopoly, The East India Company. They mismanaged it because... in a competitive environment managers who can't run the business are gotten rid of, or they go out of business. But in a monopoly you can mismanage for a long time, and the same thing with a duopoly and an oligopoly, where there's a... scintilla of competition among a few firms. ...[T]hey were going to go bankrupt because they had all this tea that they couldn't sell, and they were going to replace a market in Boston... 7 out of 10 cups of tea drunk in November and December of 1773 were Dutch tea, but under this law that was being protested, there would be a monopoly, and only British tea could be drunk. ...[P]eople understood that ...would ...mean higher prices ...less competition ...If we have such a fundamental misunderstanding of how the country got started, then we're going to have fundamentally flawed policies that flow out of these myths.
  • [A] lot of what I've been writing about in Free Lunch and... Perfectly Legal and the 13 years of stories I've been doing in The New York Times are about... a growing disconnect between our political and cultural mythology, and how the economy actually works. ...[A]ll societies have to operate from myths. You have to have a shorthand for your culture, but ours is getting disconnected from reality.
  • [A] lot of people have looked around after 28 years, from when they were promised all these things by Ronald Reagan... [and] realized that for the bottom 90% of Americans incomes are unchanged... even though the country is more than twice as wealthy in real terms, and productivity per capita is up 70%; for every dollar the economy put out back then, per person, in real terms, it puts our $1.70 today. And they've said, "Where's the beef?" ...[T]hat disconnect is ...opening up an opportunity to get people to see what the government has done that's contrary to their interests, because Adam Smith said "Any policy that benefits the majority of the people must be a good thing for the society."
  • [The] only determinant of your economic life in 18th century France was how well you picked your parents. ...The functional equivalent of what would happen if we repealed the estate tax in the United States occurred, in that all capital and all land (and this was essentially an agrarian society) were tied up. Either the Church or trusts controlled so much that there was no movement...
  • One of the stories that I tell in Free Lunch when I talk about the hedge fund business in the United States and the hedge fund managers who pay taxes at the same rate as janitors... a 15% tax rate on their incomes... The average hedge fund manager in 2006, remember the hedge fund managers keep telling us that if you raise our taxes the whole economy be negatively affected, said that it was not fair to have them pay more than a 15% rate. Of course, school teachers and reporters pay 25% or 31%. Well-to-do Americans pay 35% and... the top hedge fund manager's average income was only $11 million... a week! But they can't afford the taxes.
  • If you go... to the big stadiums where we are subsidizing commercial sports, $2 billion a year taxpayer subsidies to baseball, basketball, football and hockey. All the new facilities have these luxury boxes. Most of them are owned by companies, almost all of them are, which are a tax deductible expense. You want to buy a ticket to a baseball game, you pay with your after-tax dollar. People in the luxury box, this is a business expense because they're entertaining clients, and so you're subsidizing this because they're getting a deduction, and... the subsidy payments that you're making for these new stadiums are being used also to create private walkways, so that the wealthy that go to these boxes don't have to mingle with the likes of you and me, and we're the ones who are putting up the money so that they don't have to be with us!
  • The most widely read literature in Western Civilization is Jane Austen and her stories are about these young women... They're looking at these young men... "Oh, Mr. Darcey has 10,000... Mr. So & so has 5,000," and what they're talking about is... the British finance system in the 1700s and 1800s where wealthy people loaned... large amounts to the crown and were paid interest. ...All the crown had to do then was raise enough taxes from the poor and the middle class, to the extent there was one, to pay the interest. ...[W]hat have we been doing since 1980. Ronald Reagan came in saying he wanted a balanced budget. We last had a balanced budget under Richard Nixon. We have seen budget deficits grow enormously over the years to the point where the federal debt, not adjusted to inflation, was just under $1 trillion when Ronald Reagan came into office, and by the time George Bush leaves, it will be $10 trillion. ...Over $400 billion a year is just going to pay interest on the national debt. That means it's money we don't have for higher education, for infrastructure improvements so we don't have have bridges collapse and kill people in Minnesota when they're commuting home from work. So we don't have pinch points that are costing us billions and billions of dollars because we can't efficiently move goods around the country. We don't have it for all sorts of things that would grease the wheels of commerce and make us wealthier.
  • This practice of borrowing is a practice that in the long run will make us less wealthy. The practice of spending money we don't have inherently, in the long run, has to make you less wealthy, unless you're spending it for things that add value to your society. So if you're borrowing to build... the Erie Canal, the Interstate Highway system, to educate young people so that their productive minds will make more value in the future, you're making an investment in the future. That's not what we're doing with our borrowing. We're... simply spending money we don't have today... transferring enormous amounts of money to big corporations and wealthy individuals.
  • As taxpayers we gave one of Warren Buffet's companies, in 2006, an interest-free loan of $665 million dollars, and he only has to pay half of it back 28 years from now. ...Imagine ...you bought a house in 1980 at the price in 1980. Up until now [2009] you haven't made any payments on the house, and this year you have to pay half in the... dollars you agreed to back then, no adjustment for inflation. Do you think that alone might make you a wealthy man?
  • Enron, which did not pay taxes (I broke that story... about 7 or 8 years ago), owned Portland General Electric... and people paid close to $1 billion in their electric rates to cover its taxes. Money that never got to the government... by tax shelters and [through] other devices. When I wrote a story on this on the front page of The New York Times, the Edison Electric Institute wrote a letter... they didn't say this wasn't true. They just said we're doing what the law allows.
  • [T]he rules we've set in our society are redistributing incomes up. Our national myth is that we have this socialism policy that redistributes down. The reality of the data is that we are redistributing up, and... we don't have trickle-down economics... we have Amazon [river] up.
  • Except for a handful of people, Peter Gosselin at the Los Angeles Times who's done some big series, and a few other reporters here and there, now and then, why is it that this issue of income redistribution and government taking from the many and giving to the few is not being reported widely. You are not reading about it in many, many, many newspapers around the country. I would think it would be one of the major things.
  • When I became a reporter in the 60s in California, one of the very first lessons I learned was, your supposed to be watchdogging the government.... looking out for the taxpayers. If the politicians want to spend more money, why? What's it for? Why am I going to give up more of my sustenance to the government? If the government needs it, let's hear the case for it. ...[N]ow we have city councils in big cities in the United States where no reporter goes for months at a time to the meetings; where the city budget doesn't get covered at all.
  • I remember reading a story... in one of the biggest papers in the country about the county budget in the dominant area of marketing for that newspaper... It consisted of the 3 county commissioners... yelling at each other over the budget, and it had a single mention of the budget will be "x" dollars. It didn't tell me how much of my property taxes go up, are they spending more on the sheriff and less on schools or are they going to fix the potholes. None of the substance was there.
  • [O]ne of the fundamental changes that's taken place is more and more coverage of controversies instead of issues.
  • I have encountered I don't know how many people who have...written to me... about how we have the strongest economy in history. No we don't, and nobody who knows the numbers would say something like that, but you could easily get that impression... from watching just television news, and listening to the president repeatedly tell us what a strong economy we have, when it's just not true.
  • Whether you love or hate Ronald Reagan, he was a great leader. He really fundamentally changed America.
  • From 1945 to 1980 we had a bipartisan consensus in this country about nurturing and developing the middle class. ...There were plenty of fights back and forth, but both sides of the aisle agreed that government should be building up the majority of the people to create a better, wealthier society. We had the G.I. Bill, probably the smartest single thing government's done in modern times. ...We had the Interstate Highway System built, although it was built at the urging of the Pentagon so that we could move material around if we had to have productivity for a war. We invested in all sorts of things, basic science education, we had 30 year mortgages developed...
  • Mr. Reagan came along and said, "Are you better off? ...Government is the problem," and persuaded people who were faced with problems... We had two oil shocks, '73 and '79, we had long lines at gas stations. There were a few cases where we had shootings of people in line at gas stations. ...We had inflation that was scaring people ...
  • I don't think Mr. Reagan intended what happened. ...Mr. Reagan had a clearly defined set of values, but what we got was not conservative. What we got were radical changes that have... turned out to work to our detriment.
  • [W]e live in a society where... presidents and candidates for president of both parties are always saying "God Bless America" and "This is the greatest ever" and they're not talking about the real facts of what's going on.
  • Child poverty [has] increased in this country since 1980, even though we have had divorce rates fall. We have hundreds of thousands of young people who don't go to college because they can't afford it. ...[F]rom tax data, the average income of the bottom half of Americans is $15,000 per tax payer. ...It's right out of the IRS tables. Some people say it's unfair to use that because there's income that isn't counted, like Social Security payments, and it's taxpayers not households, but even if you go to households, the cost of going to state college now is about $10,000... If you go to household income, even at the typical median level, $50,000; how somebody making $50,000, with even two children, can afford $10,000 a year for college for kids is amazing. When you and I were kids college was paid for. It was free to us. Society paid for it because they were investing in the future. Now, we're putting road blocks in the way of the most valuable asset we have. We're subsidizing the owners of baseball teams and football teams, which is lots of fun, but it's trivia, and we're doing it, in part, by cutting money for this.
  • We're subsidizing Tyco and General Electric through the burglar alarm subsidy... while starving our parks and recreation programs; and what do we get in the big cities because we've starved those programs? Youth gangs! There have always been gangs [but] not like we have today... and it's because of government policy.
  • The fundamental affect that's taking place... is that government has changed from focusing on nurturing and developing a stable middle class, to these other policies.
  • [T]wo income households... Lots and lots of women are out there working at jobs that pay minimum wage or $8 an hour. ...[T]he result of the falling wage structure in this country is that the average family with children does 1,000 hours more paid labor today than it did back in the early '70s. ...That's working essentially half of the year. ...[M]arried women with children have often worked throughout history. A Christmas job, a Saturday job. They had what we used to call pin money, but they were not fundamental bread winners, and there are costs associated with this. We have costs for daycare [etc.]

The Fine Print (2013)


How Big Companies Use "plain English" to Rob You Blind

  • This book is about the many ways that corporations extract from you... extra nickels—which add up to thousands of dollars. Many of the mechanisms require the government's cooperation; some... the result of seemingly disconnected sources; others are hidden in plain site. ...It's in the fine print.
  • Consider the changes in income... the first full year after the Great Depression and the Great Recession... The economic rebound was widely shared in 1934, with strong income gains for the vast majority and a slight drop at the top, while in 2010 the opposite took place as the vast majority lost ground and those at the top scored big gains.
  • The big banks, car makers, insurers and a host of Canadian, Chinese, European and Japanese companies all get to profit by pocketing the taxes withheld from American workers' paychecks.
  • One of the sneakier tricks the telephone giants are pulling is to get state caps on prices lifted on the claim that they will not be raising prices, but lowering them. ...California regulators lifted the price caps... Some prices were raised as much as 600 percent...
  • [E]lectric and gas utilities in more than twenty states have... quietly obtained government approval to make customers pay in advance for new or upgraded facilities. It is as if... everyone has loaned them the money at zero percent interest.
  • Since the corporate income tax began in 1909, Congress has imposed a penalty tax, currently 15 percent, on excess cash and near-cash... Without such, a corporation could... become a huge tax shelter, withdrawing resources from the economy instead of investing in new plant...equipment... jobs and paying dividends... But President Reagan signed a law that... so long as the money was owned by offshore subsidiaries, American companies could hold unlimited amounts of cash. ...[C]ompanies now siphon profits out of the United States under the guise of... tax deductible expenses...
  • The telecommunications companies wanted to build the most profitable electronic toll road possible. Their aim was, first, to spend as little as possible on technology, which... meant slow Internet service for many... Second... serve areas where lots of customers... would buy a monthly pass... sparsely populated areas were at best incidental to such plans. Third... set prices as high as the market would bear, even if it meant many... could never afford to access this electronic roadway.
  • Lost... was the crucial fact that the federal government had established an underlying policy to make... services available to all at reasonable prices.
  • The only real risk of competition arose when some local governments favored the idea of building a municipal telephone, cable television and Internet access system that would be faster and cheaper. The industry responded like sharks, determined to do in the opposition and protect their predatory position.
  • [L]egislatures have rewritten basic business laws, some whose principles date back thousands of years. Too often the goal has been to thwart competition, artificially inflate prices, hold down wages by decimating unions, reduce worker benefits and... restrict or bar access to the courts by those aggrieved.
  • Businesses have gotten policies adopted that have allowed some managers to run corporations as, effectively, criminal enterprises... control fraud... those in control run the fraud.
  • [S]tate and local governments alone spend at least $70 billion a year of taxpayer's money to subsidize factories, office buildings [etc.]... $900 per year for a family of four.
  • [L]aws in nineteen states... let companies pocket the state income taxes withheld from their workers' paychecks for up to twenty-five years. ...In many of these subsidy programs, no jobs are created.
  • Legislatures passed these laws, presidents and governors signed them and the courts have endorsed them. In many cases they effectively gut state constitutional provisions and laws banning gifts to business.
  • [B]usiness has been regulated throughout history. ...[I]n the past four decades, we have forgotten the tried and tested (and therefore profoundly conservative) principles of business developed over thousands of years. ...[O]ur wealth... well being and... freedom are being diminished daily.
  • Wyoming Corporate Services... for a fee, will create a company, set up a bank account, appoint officers and directors... provide a lawyer as a corporate director so the company can invoke attorney-client privilege... [and] make any required regulatory filings... without anyone being able to ascertain, without a court order, who is behind any corporation it creates.
  • If... immortal, amoral and greed-driven people walked the earth, we would have to rewrite our laws governing property. ...[O]ur new class of immortals could just keep accumulating wealth and power forever. In time they would probably own every... asset on earth worth having. ...[That] immortal being is the modern corporation.
  • Unlike individuals, who must take responsibility for their conduct, corporations' legal responsibility... has benefited from limits to that responsibility established by law. The rationale... is that people who... build a business would not take the same risks if failure meant they would lose... their houses, cars... and everything else. ...[T]hey can go about their corporate business, creating enterprises and generating wealth.
  • [L]imiting liability... has also obscured a corporation's responsibility to function for the benefit of society. The greater good is an idea that is thousands of years old, but in the recent past corporations have been permitted to lose site of that... notion.
  • Workers may toil their entire lives, communities may tax themselves to create infrastructure a corporation needs, and vendors may invest their entire fortune to supply the corporation—but none of these parties, Friedman said, has significant legal rights or moral claims. [T]he idea... was not supported by the development of the law, the regulation of business and the advancement of civilization over thousands of years. But... Friedman's ahistorical thinking has come to dominate...
  • [C]lassical "corporations"... existed not for profit but in service of the state. ...A key tenet ...has changed since ancient times... If a business fails, the chief executive does not have to become a slave to the bank... Corporations... have inverted the Roman equation: ...the state serves them.
  • Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas insist that they are "originalists,"... interpreting our Constitution as a document fixed in time. No honest originalist could... have signed on to Citizens United, but intellectually corrupt justices who worship corporatism, disdain the poor and enjoy the perks of power...
  • Citizens United is to the expansion of corporate power what the big bang is to the beginning of existence...
  • America has been transformed from a land of growing economic plenty into a hollow shell.
  • In just a third of a century, the widespread liquidity that nourished the economy—reliable streams of cash going to workers and owners alike—has... dried up.

David Cay Johnston: The Perils Of Our Growing Inequality (Jun 1, 2014)

Interview by Rob Johnson, president, Institute for New Economic Thinking, a source.
  • Everything has rules... The rules that we set really determines who benefits and who bears the burden. ...[W]e have all of these policies ...that largely determine what's happening. ...[I]n America... we live in a society... where coming out of the Great Recession, a third [33%] of all increased income through 2012 went to the top 16,000 households, that's the 1% of the 1% [1 out of 10,000], 95% of that income went to the top 1%, and the bottom 90 per cent's income actually fell... to the level of 1966... [T]hat happened because the government rules, in many ways, from who gets access to quality education, to who gets proper health care, to incarceration policies, are shaping what's happening to our society.
  • [I]n 1968... most journalists were blue collar intellectuals. Today the newsrooms of the major news organizations are full of people who grew up in wealthy households. So... their attitude... is "The world seems to be doing just fine. It's quite just." ...because that's their life's experience.
  • [W]e've had this tremendous weakening of the news media, so that [many] large federal agencies... have no beat reporters... covering them. We have city councils and school boards all across America that get no coverage... and this is terrific for those people who are getting rich by exploiting the rules of the system for their benefit; and you're not hearing about that.
  • [W]e have the highest percentage of children who go to bed hungry of any modern country. You wouldn't know from reading the news or watching TV that America has a hunger problem, that all across America we have communities, in the country, in the suburbs, in the city, where volunteers send home backpacks full of food for families on the weekend, because otherwise these kids would not eat.
  • The most important period determining your lifetime health and emotional well being, and therefore you ability to get along, is from conception to about the first 6 months of your life. We pay very little attention to that. We give women in this country 6 weeks of disability, and they may use several other at the end of their pregnancy, so little babies... are not getting enough nurturing. In some of the European countries you are required to take a year off, and it's a violation of the law... to hold a job when you have a small child, because these societies recognize that we have a long-term interest. So just as we're using up our infrastructure by not fixing up roads and bridges and dams and pipelines, we are also stealing from the future by not nurturing and providing proper care for small children. ...[T]here will be a price, and it will be very high.
  • There's a big attack going on in this country on public education. One of the Koch brothers... publicly advocated ending public education, because that's socialism. ...[I]n Wisconsin we saw people call kindergarten teachers thugs. Something I would never have imagined when I was young... [I]t's because we've gone through a fundamental change. We've been living under Reaganism now since 1981, and in Reaganism we worship money, and our measure of the country is money.
  • The purposes of our country were written down for us in the Preamble of the Constitution, the justice, the general Welfare with a capital "W", common defense, domestic tranquility, liberties... Nothing in the Preamble talks about getting rich. That's a byproduct of these other things. But we have gotten a distorted view of what's happening, and we also... are now at the point where we have 33 years of evidence that Reaganism produces actually exactly what Ronald Reagan said in 1980, if you listen carefully... It's made the rich richer. Now it's doing it at the expense of the 90%.
  • We are mining the 90% to benefit the super rich.
  • Rather than building the economy for all of us, we are mining the bottom to benefit the top.
  • The number one driver of this is campaign finance. The reality is, if you or I got elected to Congress, we would have to spend our time dealing with wealthy people who want favors from the government. There are over 100,000 people in America who's job is to mine the public treasury, or the rules, for their benefit. ...So we've got to change campaign finance... in a way that this Supreme Court, with the radicals on it, can't knock down.
  • John Adams... wrote that his fear... of what would destroy America was a business aristocracy would arise. Instead of people being yeomen farmers who owned their own land, or workers who owned their own tools... workers would be mere wage earners, and... not being truly independent, would vote for the policies that benefit the business aristocracy, and we would lose both our liberties and our democracy... a good indicator of what's going on right now.
  • Adam Smith, in his lessor known book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, says that the greatest corruption of our moral sentiments is a tendency to almost worship the rich, and to hold in bad regard people who are poor. ...[O]ur politicians reflect this, even though many of them will tell you... how religious they are. ...[T]hey obviously have not studied their religious texts because, if they did, they would know that (in the case of the Christians, for example) you are supposed to give all that thou hast to the poor. That's a standard I'm not willing to meet, but that's the standard that you are supposed to meet... It's certainly not to be mean and literally deny hungry children food.
  • [I]f Reaganism worked, if Bush's tax cuts worked, America today would be swimming in jobs. That's what we were promised. It would lead to all this investment and all these jobs. Instead, it's led to this enormous concentration of wealth among people who could never consume that much wealth, and who now increasingly are putting it into financial products, rather than investing it in ways that will grow the economy. ...[W]e're socking it away ...American corporations, under a rule almost nobody knows about ...are limited in how much cash they can hold, unless they move it overseas. ...[O]nce you move if overseas they can have ...unlimited amounts of cash, and what have we seen happen? ...Corporations have almost 3 times as much cash overseas as they have at home, and they then take that cash and buy US treasuries. So we pay big corporations to not pay their taxes. ...The interest they will earn from the treasury will exceed the value of the tax, and we will collect 40 cents on the dollar or less of the actual tax. ...Literally it has become a profit center ...
  • There is a movement to repeal the Fourteenth Amendment. When the US Supreme Court clerk, who was the former president of a railroad, announced that the corporations are people for purposes of defending their property... That makes sense, because a corporation is property. But Chief Justice Rehnquist, in a dissent in a case called Bellotti vs. ...Bank of Boston, was clearly opposed to the idea of giving political rights to corporations. We are now on the verge, in the Hobby Lobby case, of giving religious rights to corporations. Who's a corporation prey to, Mammon? So we've very much veered off from what was intended.
  • When this country was founded, there had only been 7 corporations... in the... old British colonial United States, at the time of the Declaration of Independence. Six of them were what today we would either call a charity or a utility. ...One corporation, created in the colony of New Haven, was set up solely to make profit. It was such a scandal they had to shut it down within a year and it took 10 years to clean up the mess. The Founders disliked and distrusted corporations. But they believed in collective bargaining, and I can prove that because in 1792 Congress passed the first significant labor law and subsidy law. It was to benefit the cod fishing industry. We got a quarter of our foreign earnings from cod and we were deeply in debt from... the Revolutionary War. So it was important we had foreign earnings. ...[T]o address ...harassment by the British Navy the cod fishing industry wanted a subsidy, and Thomas Jefferson ...ordered a study and concluded that those ships that only paid wages to their fishermen should be excluded. But if... the workers were paid partly in the share of the profits... then you got the subsidy, and 5/8 of the subsidy went to the workers and 3/8 to the company. ...[T]hat sounds a lot like collective bargaining.
  • Back in 1996 I was the principle reporter at The New York Times on a huge series... that changed the way executive pay was reported. We showed how the head of Coca-Cola had gotten a $100 million pay one year and he only paid taxes on about $2 Million... [H]e had built a fortune of just shy of a billion dollars at that point, tax free... [T]here were members of the board of directors of Coke that did not understand how much money they had paid him.
  • When you and I were young and a company laid people off, you would see the president, not the CEO... in those days, say "...I'm gonna work for a dollar a year" or "I'm going to take no bonuses until everybody is rehired." Today it's... "Ooh, I fired 10,000 people. I'll get a bigger bonus!"
  • We are... seeing... failure to enforce the law. I have written for 15 years about a way that real estate in partnerships cheat. It's easy to spot but you have to do the work... The guy who figured it out was given all sorts of awards by the IRS. No one will do it. The governor of New York, who should be in the forefront... because it costs the state as much as $700 million in a peak year, refuses to do this, and... his administration has... literally lied, claiming repeatedly that they're looking for this, but there's no court case of any kind.
  • The Attorney General, Eric Holder testified, in March of 2013, to Congress that he was afraid to prosecute the too big to fail banks because it would cause economic disruption. ...I've been going after him in Newsweek for that and he has backtracked, but for months, an Inspector General's report shows, he claimed that they had gone after more than a billion dollars and over 500 people involved in mortgage fraud... still... a drop in the bucket. ...In fact, there were less than a hundred cases involving $95 million ...a drop in a drop ...and he kept telling this lie. So we... now have a government that does not go after people who are engaged in criminal frauds because they are considered so powerful, that if they were prosecuted it would damage the economy. My God!
  • George Will had a column in The Washington Post this week in which he said that the proof that the Great Society failed after 50 years was people trusted the government under LBJ and now they don't any more. ... [I] would argue... the facts show just the opposite. People don't trust the government anymore because they recognize it does not work in their interest, it works against their interest...
  • We decided in 1980 to go down a different path when we elected Ronald Reagan. We have gotten the results that Mr. Reagan said, if you listen to him carefully in 1980, we would get, which is that those people that are wealth holders would realize the income from that wealth, and they have. Their actual tax rates, for people at the very top, are 60% lower than what they paid in the 1960s. But at the same time, by getting rid of unions... by having these "free trade deals," which are really deals to drive down the cost of labor; we have driven down the wages and the salaries of the vast majority of Americans... We have also weakened these environmental laws... that were pretty good. So we've put in place a whole mechanism in which we favor profit over labor. ...When you look at the data you can see it ...Returns to labor in the Federal Reserve data go [down with time] and returns to capital have been rising, and since 2009 it's like looking at one of those jet fighters going straight up.
  • [B]ecause labor returns have gone down there's not enough aggregate demand... to buy goods and services. ...The next thought should be ...capitalists will change because people have to buy their products. No, if your a global level capitalist, it doesn't matter. As long as there aren't riots in the streets, you can sell your goods in other countries.
  • While at my last paper, I won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing so many tax dodges and loopholes that a prominent tax lawyer called me the "de facto chief tax enforcement officer of the United States."
  • In 1990, I broke the story that, instead of being worth billions, as he'd claimed, Trump actually had a negative net worth and escaped a chaotic collapse into personal bankruptcy only when the government took his side over the banks...
  • I... watched Trump run briefly in 2000 for the nomination of the Reform Party... during that brief campaign Trump declared he would become the first person to run for president and make a profit. ...For the 2016 run, a large share of Trump's campaign money was spent paying himself for the use of his Boeing 757... in addition to his smaller jet, his helicopter, his Trump Tower office space, and other services supplied by Trump businesses.
  • Trump doesn't know anything. ...Trump's own words and conduct ...and his comments on many issues ...show how appallingly ignorant he is. ...[H]e does not have a clue about the Constitution's system of checks and balances.
  • Trump never faced tough questions as a candidate where he could not walk away or give nonsense answers without repeated follow-up. This is a serious problem for the future of American democracy in the television era, when appearances matter more than reality.
  • He appointed as chief executive of his campaign, and, later, White House strategy chief, Steve Bannon, a known anti-Semite who, in his time at Breitbart News Network, published racist articles and bizarre conspiracy theories...
  • For five months, Trump's campaign manager was Paul Manafort, advisor to dictators and near dictators including a pro-Moscow regime in Ukraine that was ousted by a popular uprising.
  • The hiring of Manafort and others, specifically Felix Sater, a Russian-born real estate mogul with mob ties whose 2015 emails indicate that he hoped to help secure both a Moscow-based real estate deal and the American presidency for Trump—showed a disturbing pattern of associations with those around Vladimir Putin, head of the kleptocracy in Moscow...
  • Trump applauded Putin throughout the campaign... [which] paralleled the language in many manuscripts of mob soldiers speaking about their bosses.
  • Trump has worked hard to make sure few... know about his lifelong entanglements with [Joseph Weichselbaum,] a major cocaine trafficker... with American and Russian mobsters and many mob associates, and with various con artists and swindlers.
  • [C]rowds of young people... filled the Trump Tower auditorium in June 2015, interrupting with applause forty-three times as Trump announced his campaign with vicious denunciations of Mexicans, Muslims, and the media. ...A day later news broke that the crowd was not ...voluntary ...Many ...were actors paid fifty bucks apiece. ...[S]uch dishonesty continues a pattern that traces back throughout the life and career of Donald Trump.
  • A few years after the war ended, [Fred Trump] took on a partner... Willie Tomasello. When cash was short, Tomasello was able to provide Trump with operating capital on short notice. Tomasello also saw to it that there was no trouble from the unions... The New York State Organized Task Force identified Tomasello as an associate of the Genovese and Gambino Mafia families... Fred Trump turned to an organized crime associate as his long time partner... Decades later, Donald Trump would also do business with the heads of the same families, though at a remove, developing numerous business connections with an assortment of criminals, from con artists and a major drug trafficker to the heads of the two largest Mafia families in New York City...
  • Business owners who are prudent about making promises and are known for honoring their word often go through life without a single lawsuit. Trump has been a party in more than 4,000 lawsuits, some of them accusing him of civil fraud...
  • Trump has... been sued thousands of times for refusing to pay employees, vendors and others. Investors have sued him for fraud in a number of different cities. But among Trump’s most highly refined skills is his ability to deflect or shut down law enforcement investigations. He also uses threats of litigation to deter news organizations from looking behind the curtains of the seemingly all-wise and all-powerful man they often refer to as The Donald.

David Cay Johnston, "It's Even Worse Than You Think" (Jan 27, 2018)

from a presentation at Politics and Prose, a source.
  • Our democracy is in very deep trouble. ...Donald Trump is not the disease. He is the symptom.
  • [I]f we're going to fix this, and if we're going to get this manifestly unqualified criminal out of the White House, we have to do some work. We've got to diagnose the real underlying problem.
  • Americans have a pretty good idea of the chaos and the palace intrigues in the Trump White House. Journalists are actually doing a much better job of covering what's going on in the White House than I anticipated, partly because, even though Donald Trump is all about loyalty to Donald, there are all sorts of people eager to leak, who are in there not as close allies... and who want to position themselves for the future with journalists.
  • But that's not what... effects your lives, your children's lives [etc.]... It is important that we understand what the Trump administration is doing. ...[I]t's not Donald personally doing this. Donald's a lazy guy. He works about 4 hours a day. ...[H]e spends one third of his time at his properties. It's the people he brought in.
  • Steve Bannon put it best. Steve Bannon said "I'm a Lennonist" that is, I'm someone who wants to destroy the existing order. Many of these people, although they... wouldn't put in these terms, hate the United States of America. ...They hate the fact that there are people of color... that there are people of a different religion in this country, that there are people who are not interested in worshiping the rich and trying to get rich, and certainly don't want to be taxed to subsidize the rich.
  • We have a president of the United States who is not a loyal citizen. ...[L]ook at the email that Rob Goldstone... sent to Donald Trump Jr. ...[Y]ou want to read it carefully because the journalists... did not parse the sentences... the fourth sentence in this email makes it clear that there was an ongoing conspiracy. Collusion is not a crime. I don't care about collusion... There was an ongoing conspiracy between the Kremlin and the Trump administration. It says in the fourth line... "as part of Russia's efforts to help." That's not a "Hi, would you like to get together..?" That's "We're already sleeping together. You want to try something new?"
  • Donald Trump has been involved with the Russians back to 1983. He has worked very hard to suppress a lawsuit about a quarter billion dollar tax fraud which he authorized. ...DCReport.org, the nonprofit news service that my friends and I started ...is in court trying to get access to some of the documents in this case that have been sealed, because Trump has been incredibly successful in hiding the record of his conduct.
  • So when Trump came to the White House, the people he brought with him, Michael Flynn... Steve Bannon, [etc.] brought with them this team... Team Trump... [I]n the federal agencies, it's not just the incompetent, unqualified, anti-(to their oath of office) cabinet secretaries who matter. It's not just Scott Pruitt, who wants to destroy the EPA and Betsy DeVos whose completely unqualified. It's the people that came with them... political termites... loosed into the structure of our government, and they are damaging our government.
  • [T]hey have stopped posting notices of worker deaths. About 4800 people a year die on the job, and some... are just accidents nobody could have predicted. ...But many of them are the result of the fact that... While... most employers try, or do a good job, there are some [that] just don't care. ...[T]ime after time, they have workers who are unnecessarily maimed or killed. The records of those aren't there any more. They're not putting them up. They're fighting giving away the statistical information that we need to understand what they're doing, and the Labor Department's actions in this area are far from unique.
  • I asked the federal government under an agency Trump just took control of, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which has recovered multiples of its budget) for a copy of a receipt... evidence that a huge fine, supposedly paid by one of the banks was actually paid. ...[T]hey said... "You'll have to file a Freedom of Information Act request. This is the kind of administration we have.
  • When Donald Trump took the oath of office "to faithfully execute the laws" and to be "loyal to the United States of America", he then got in a motorcade to go to the White House. There's a TV camera... in the truck... that looks square down the middle ...The presidential limousine... stopped... the family got out... they spent two minutes walking around... in front of the Trump International Hotel, whose lease says "no federal employee can be involved in that lease" and... we have jointly an employee named Donald J. Trump. He's our employee. ...[T]he reason he did that was ...[I]f you are an emissary... seeking a favor from Donald Trump, if you're an oil baron, or a coal company, or anybody else who wants a favor from the Trump administration, you got the message.
  • That hotel... in Trump organization filings had predicted would lose money in its first year, is making money hand over fist. ...They're taking in at the bar, $68,000 a night. ...If you want something from the Trump administration, what he made clear, is "You will pay me tribute." You'll sign up to join Mar-a-Lago, where he doubled the admission price.
  • [T]hese appointees that they put in place... are totally unqualified, and in many cases, enemies of the agencies they represent. Donald Trump's administration is turning America into what the ancient Greeks called a kakistocracy. ...[A] government of the worst people, the most venal, unqualified criminal elements around. The worst people. ...These are people who when they get called to testify, give answers that make it clear, they have no business being the manager of the little town I live in... much less running a cabinet agency.
  • This book tells you what has either not been in the news or [has] been in it glancingly, about what they're doing to our government; and that effects your safety, your income, your future.
  • Donald Trump came into office and killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership. ...[T]hat partnership had serious flaws. It was written in secret, by corporate lobbyists and by lawyers involved in the trade business. It was so secretive that when my congresswoman, Louise Slaughter, having seen what I wrote, wanted to read what was in there... she said "Yea, it's all written... in language that doesn't mean anything to me," and Louise has a PhD in microbiology. ...It's written in the language of people in the trade, not to be understood by mere mortals.
  • We needed to fix the TPP, but Donald killed it, and did nothing to replace it. ...That creates a vacuum, and into that vacuum stepped president Xi. The RCEP is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership led by Beijing. It's 15 Pacific Rim countries (not us, just as TPP didn't include China)... plus India. ...[W]hen I was in Australia... I was astonished... They were all saying that Australia is going to have to reorient its trade policies towards Beijing, because there is no American leadership.
  • [O]ne of the purposes of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was to contain China. ...China is very expansionist. ...[T]hey're building in the Spratly Islands these artificial islands and saying "You can't fly airplanes over here or run ships through here, especially not military ships." China believes that it's the country of the future, and if you drive on their highways... they put the Autobahn to shame, which puts our Interstates to shame... They are... like the Catholic Church in terms of their thinking, "We're here forever."
  • What is Trump doing? Nothing. Japan signs a trade deal with the European Union last summer in Brussels. Donald Trump is 800 miles to the east in Poland. He's giving a speech where he talks about "Everyone adored me..." (That's because the right-wing government of Poland used police to make sure that only Trump supporters... got in, that protestors were kept blocks away...) So while this important trade deal is going down, where's Donald Trump? ...[Y]ou put Japan together with Europe, and the RCEP, and this is not good for our future. This is very, very bad for our future.
  • Donald has a degree on his office [wall] from Penn, an ivy league school in economics [Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania]. He was given that degree, and I emphasize the verb "given" because he always said "Mexico is going to pay for the wall." ...[A]ll thinking people went "How are you going to make a sovereign nation pay for a wall they don't want?" "I have a plan!" Do you know what his plan was when he came into office? "I'm going to put a tariff on Mexican goods." It's a guy with an economics degree who doesn't know that a tariff... means we pay for the wall through higher prices? The man doesn't know anything.
  • He appoints as his commerce secretary one of leading vulture capitalists in America, Wilbur Ross, whose specialty is seizing a company that's run out of cash, recapitalizing it. You don't pay the bills you owe... (something that Donald Trump never heard of). You borrow new money (something Donald Trump certainly has heard of) then you squeeze the borrowed money out and put it in your own pocket, and you turn the zombie [company] loose until it dies.
  • Wilbur Ross goes with Donald Trump to Riyadh, where Donald Trump praises the Saudis for leading the fight against terrorism. You know who the biggest funders of terrorism in the world are? He attacks Qatar... an ally of the US that allows us to have our most important military base there. ...Wilbur Ross comes back from this trip, he goes on CNBC and he says, "...The Saudi people love us. ...There wasn't a single demonstrator, anywhere..." and Becky Quick ...says "...It's against the law to protest there. They arrest people. They whip them"...
  • The way that the Trump administration is cutting regulations... It's just "Go ahead and pollute. Take the toxic residue from burning coal, and instead of drying it out and putting it in a place where it's unlikely to cause harm, continue to put it into slurries and then toxic ponds next to rivers where we get drinking water." That's not benefiting us. That's simply jacking up the profits of these companies, which by the way, get paid rates under rate regulation, to pay for these costs of cleaning up their mess.
  • Let's go to the student loan industry. ...What is the Trump administration doing? "We're going to address the student loan problem." So Betsy DeVos brings in... executives from the companies that made the student loans. ...This is building a new hen house designed by the fox!
  • Donald Trump is never going to resign... [H]is ego is never going to let him resign. He will not be moved against by the Republicans... They've made their bed with him. They're excusing everything he does.
  • I have this vague recollection of Republican leaders talking about their concerns about immorality, especially women and wanting to make sure we can't have access to things like birth control... and talking about family values. So out comes the Wall Street Journal on the playmate of the year who got paid $150 grand to not talk, and now the porn star and, trust me, to quote Donald, "Believe me..." there's more like this out there. Where are the moralists about Donald Trump's behavior? ...His conduct is outrageous.
  • Where are the moralists who scream about drugs and say nothing about what I describe... Donald's deep entanglement with a major international cocaine trafficker [Joseph Weichselbaum], and things he did that make no sense whatsoever, unless they were in business together, in which case everything he did makes perfect sense. Where are these people?
  • Where are the ministers? ...Franklin Graham ...said ..."Donald denies it." Well, Eliot Spitzer denied it. ...Bill Clinton denied it. ...[Graham] goes... "Donald is a changed man from 10 years ago." ...That's a reasonable question to think... you know, was I different 10 years ago? ...I was. I had less grey hair.
  • What matters is that we get a new Congress. Donald Trump ran for president based on the economic policies (just the economics, not the racism) that was in my trilogy on the American economy: Perfectly Legal, Free Lunch and The Fine Print. If you know that Walmart uses your tax dollars to build its stores and GE taxes its workers in Ohio to build factories, you know that because of my work; and it's now widespread... even if most people have forgotten I'm the guy brought all that to the fore years ago.
  • I said back in 2012, a year when the average income of the bottom 90% of Americans was lower, adjusted for inflation... than in 1967... that if you ran for president on the economics in my books you would win, because it champions the 90%, in fact it champions... the 99.5%; and that's what Donald did, and I know he watched me on television because he talked to other people about it, who told me...
  • Donald Trump said "I'm going to drain the swamp." He comes here and immediately turns it into a federally protected wetland, a paradise for Wall Street.
  • He says in 2015, "I have a tax plan here. The best tax experts in America have all been over it." ...I called and said "Where are the experts?" There are no experts. They didn't have anybody. Come April, he's been in office three months. He promised, day one, we're going to have a tax bill. They put out a 100 word tax plan... It was a shopping list for Goldman Sachs' clients.
  • This is the anti-education presidency.
  • People don't know... They... are so fascinated by what's going on in the White House, they're not paying attention to what matters. ...[T]he reason I hope every single one of you reads my book (and if you can't afford to buy the book, it's in the library...) is that people need to know this or we will not get change.
  • Citizenship is not something that you can outsource! ...We've got to do the work ourselves, and you've got to know, and you've got to talk to people.
  • [O]ne of the problems that all the labor leaders I speak to face, is that a lot of their members believe Donald Trump is helping them. They have no idea the damage he is doing to them, because it's not in the news!
  • Journalism never did a great job of covering government, but 40% of journalism jobs in this country have disappeared since 2000. ...[A]s a result of that the agencies aren't being covered at all. The electricity markets, job safety, diplomacy, all through the government, the military. All of these things are being ravaged by this kakistocracy. ...Spend a couple of evenings reading the book, and then you've got to... tell other people. Have the facts to persuade them to understand what's wrong.
  • [T]he Democrats, who have not paid attention to their knitting for 40 years, while the Republicans have been building bench strength, passing laws to suppress votes, coming up with laws to throw out votes after they're cast, as we saw in Michigan. The Democrats have to run candidates who are viable. I was sent a news clip by a friend... a couple of interviews of people who want to run for office as Democrats... they were young and they were earnest and... then they got asked questions... [T]hey immediately fell apart because they didn't know anything. They were just like Donald Trump. ...You've got to find and develop real candidates.
  • People have to get registered to vote. People have to be driven to the polls on election day... Go to a district where there might be change. Arrange in advance... Don't call people and ask them to go. Go get them! Take them to the polls. That's the only thing that matters at the end of the day, our votes.
  • If we do our jobs as citizens, we become informed, we insist on rational debate about real issues and we then get people to the polls, we can get a different Congress, we can get rid of this presidency and we can have a bright future. There's damage that will last forever, but the longer he's in office, the longer he is a clear and present danger to all the world. So please... read my book, get to the actual damage being done, and tell other people.
  • Next time you go to a talk by me, because I'm sure I'll be back with one of my future books. Maybe the one I hope to have out next year, which is a whole new tax system that's simple and... you can't cheat under my system without committing a crime. Bring a young person.

It's Even Worse Than You Think (2018)

What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America
  • Viewed properly in the context of their times, the last forty-four presidents all pursued policies that they believed would make for a better America tomorrow.
  • The Trump presidency is about Trump. Period. Full stop.
  • Trump is desperate for others to fill the void inside himself. He has a sad need for attention and, preferably, public adoration.
  • Trump has... lived a life of thumbing his nose at conventions and law enforcement, learning... from his father, Fred, whose business partner was an associate of the Gambino and Genovese crime families. He has long been in deep with mobsters, domestic and foreign, along with corrupt union bosses and assorted swindlers. Trump even spent years deeply entangled with a major international drug trafficker who, like many of the others, enjoyed their mutually lucrative arrangements.
  • Instead of a president of specific duties and constitutionally limited authority, Trump and his aides talk as if he is an absolute ruler, or should be, to whom all must bend the knee.
  • Trump has himself reduced his life philosophy to a single word—revenge. ...Repeatedly he has said in talks and in books that destroying the lives of people he considers disloyal gives him pleasure. That Trump does not recognize ethical limits on conduct... derives from his fundamental character, narcissism.
  • Over many years in paid public appearances and in books bearing his name... Trump rejected the idea of turning the other cheek, saying that those who do are "fools" and "idiots." This philosophy was ignored by the many pastors who endorsed Trump and accepted... that he is a Christian. ...[R]evenge is explicitly rejected by Jesus and runs counter to the whole theme of the New Testament.
  • The Golden Rule has no place in the life of Donald Trump.
  • Revenge is the philosophy of dictators and mob bosses... used to keep others in line with threats of economic ruin, violence, or worse.
  • [T]he Trump presidency is unlike anything that came before, a presidency built on open public contempt for Constitutional principles.
  • [H]e brought into the White House a host of people with fringe ideas, some of them Islamophobes... white nationalists... xenophobes, and many... sharing Trump's ignorance of science. ...[M]any ...had no qualifications ...for the posts ...he got the advice and consent of ...senators despite testimony revealing some as ...know-nothings and one ...determined to destroy the agency he now runs.
  • Trump has left the vast majority of positions under his control vacant.
  • The Trump administration deposited political termites throughout the structure of our government. Their task, in the words of Steve Bannon, is the "deconstruction of the administrative state." ...[H]e means to undo the tax, trade, regulatory, and other means... [T]he end game is... a government that looks first after the best-off... not those most in need of a helping hand in the form of a sound education, clean water, and other basics of a healthy society... These termites operate out of sight... to bully or scare scientists into leaving, remove from public access... public records... necessary to enforce environmental, worker safety, and other laws.
  • Few things benefit Trump more than ignorance. ...Unless and until some fact they cannot reconcile slaps them hard in the face, the con's marks will keep seeing the world through the credulous and distorted lens...
  • He has boasted about not paying banks that loaned him billions of dollars. He conned thousands of people desperate to learn... paying up to $35,000 to attend Trump University. ...[T]hese professors turned out to be fast-food managers and others with no experience in real estate, the focus of the "university." Because of... law suits Trump paid back $25 million... so the scam would not follow him into the White House.
  • Many of those who believe in Trump come from the 90 percent whose economic fortunes have dwindled over that last half century... [P]olicies embraced by both parties ignored their plight or made it worse.
  • The Chinese have seized upon Trump's erratic behavior and his cancellation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to promote their own trade deal, orienting fifteen Pacific Rim economies and India away from Washington and toward Bejing.
  • Trump used illegal immigrants with sledge hammers (but no hard hats or safety gear) to demolish a... Manhattan department store so he could build Trump Tower. A federal judge... held that Trump engaged in a conspiracy to cheat those men out of their full $4 an hour pay.
  • Trump started a faux university named for himself that taught nothing of value and collapsed in scandal.
  • Questions of corruption and foreign influence are on the front burner... because of the extensive business holdings of Donald Trump and his actions encouraging foreign powers, lobbyists, and other favor seekers to spend money at his Washington hotel and other properties.
  • The domestic emoluments clause... states that beyond his government salary the president may not receive "any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them." Those... words bar payment from the federal government or any of the fifty states... Trump has been profiting from spending at his properties by foreign governments... Also Trump has been profiting from federal, state, and local governments spending money at his properties as part of presidential security details. When Trump stays at [his properties]... these governments... pay full retail prices.
  • Lawsuits accusing Trump of violating the Constitution's emoluments clauses have been filed by attorneys general from sixteen states and by 196 senators and representatives,... a bipartisan ethics watchdog organization called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington... and a growing list of business owners who compete with Trump hotels and restaurants.
  • The emoluments clauses... go to the very nature of... America and whether we are a nation of laws... whether elected office is for public service or it permits profiteering.
  • Trump is the first president to pose numerous questions about whether he is receiving income from foreign governments, which the Framers felt was inherently corrupting. He is also the first to present the issue of profiting from spending by federal, state, and local governments with payments that the Framers denied... How these cases are resolved will likely have an enormous influence on whether the American Republic endures...
  • Trump's private and Justice Department lawyers narrowly define emolument. ...[A]nything short of an flat-out bribe is legal ...so long as the transaction is run through one of the ...companies owned by the president.
  • During the Constitutional Convention... [d]ictionaries from the era... show that emolument had a broad meaning, including profit, gain, benefit, and advantage. John Mikhail... found that "the majority of Blackstone's usages of 'emolumnent' involve benefits other than government salaries and or perquisites," including profits from business and rents from land.
  • Richard W. Painter and Norm Eisen... as leaders of [CREW]... describe Trump's conduct as a "flagrant abuse" of the Constitution for personal profit. ...Painter, the Bush ethics chief... is almost apoplectic at Trump's conduct and the failure of his fellow Republicans to speak up.
  • Trump bought the Doral with $104.8 million he borrowed from Deutsche Bank... infamous for laundering money for Russian oligarchs. ...When Trump took office, the Doral was under a foreclosure order. Trump, as he often does, refused to pay contractors in full. ...Most contractors just walk away when Trump refuses to pay... because Trump will spend far more to litigate than the amount in dispute to discourage contractors and small business owners he cheats from suing for what they are due.

The Tyrant Next Time (November 7, 2019)

from a presentation for the Network for Responsible Public Policy, a source.
  • [I]n modern language we think of "idiot" as someone who is stupid or a fool. That is not the classical meaning... An idiot is someone who cares only about himself and has no regard for anyone else, and that's terribly important when you think about tyrants. ...[W]e think of tyrants as people who are horrible... oppressors. ...[I]n its classic historic meaning, tyrant was simply someone who ceased power.
  • The Founders of this country are in two groups... [W]e live in the second American republic because the first American republic under the Articles of Confederation failed, because it had no power to tax.
  • [A] government that can't tax ...is no government at all.
  • The reason we created the Constitution was to tax ourselves... It's Article 1, Section [8]... that Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties and imposts [and excises].
  • Governments throughout history have been run by tyrants.
  • Whose society lasted 3,300 years? It was the [Egyptian] Pharaohs. ...They figured out through public works how to keep people busy and out of trouble, and every high-born Egyptian was taught... how far you can oppress people before they would strike back. ...[T]hey also learned one other lesson. You've all heard of the Rosetta Stone?
  • The Rosetta Stone is a grant of tax relief. ...[E]ssentially it says... I, Pharaoh so and so... hereby make this grant of tax relief to these priests.
  • [W]hat's happened in our society is we have seen this experiment, this crazy idea of self-governance which had very few antecedents, atrophy.
  • The Haudenosaunee people, the People of the Longhouse, the ones we call the Iroquois created a democracy. ...[T]hey had the equivalent of state legislatures. ...[O]nly men ran for office. Only women voted, and women could remove from office men who misbehaved, and they did.
  • The other old democracy... was in Athens. ...Aristotle said democracy means "to rule and to be ruled in turns"... because the system... was designed to ensure that nobody would... cease power. ...Different clans had to be together. You couldn't be segregated. ...[E]very month a different group was in charge. ...[I]t worked for 200 years. [Much of] our Constitution is based... on the experience of Ancient Athens, of Attica.
  • All of the Founders of this country... were well steeped in the history of the ancient world. ...[T]hey were very concerned about the rabble... about people being inflamed, and making bad decisions, and ruining this idea they had. ...In many places you weren't allowed to vote if you were just a wage earner. The theory, and this came out of the horrible Patroon system of the Dutch in Hudson Valley, where ordinary people would be told by their boss, who to vote for. But if you were a freeholder no one could tell you what to do.
  • [O]ur Consitution... is designed to be slow and hard to change. It takes six years to get rid of all the scalawags in office today. ...[I]t's designed to be conservative, and it has a very interesting backstop. ...The electoral college has a second purpose... to have an ultimate backstop if the people went for a zealot, or a crazy person, to be president of the United States. ...[T]hat [the elector] would vote [his] conscious and say "No, the popular will here is wrong. This person will destroy our democracy."
  • And then we get a man who hasn't done a single day of public service in his life, and he has a rabid following. This is a man whose lawyers... in court two weeks ago said that "Yes... if he were to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue no law enforcement agency could investigate. He is immune."
  • There are always people who want a tyrant. Democracy requires work if it's going to work.
  • One of the things that changed was [that] the institutions that supported working people have been decimated. ...[T]he Democrats, the party of the working people, played a role in this. They allowed the weakening... of unions. They bought the argument that unions are bad for companies.
  • Japan has mandatory unions. ...It's in their Constitution, and who wrote their Constitution? ...The staff of... General Douglas MacArthur, because he knew that if Japan had unions it would democratize the country, it would tend to equalize incomes, and it would help resist the bellicose tendencies of the aristocratic class in Japan. And it's worked brilliantly.
  • We're all interdependent. Don't think about exploiting and mining other people because we're all interdependent. ...You say that today and people say, "Oh, you're a socialist!"
  • Bill O'Reilly... called me a socialist, and I said "Interestingly, my books champion competitive markets," but I understand people like Bill think that competitive markets are a socialist scheme, because they just want to mine the public and make all the money they can, with no regard for anybody else.
  • Those organizations that were focused on the New Testament and the idea that you have an obligation to your fellow man and to provide people with a means to interface with government... That's just shriveled away like unions have. ...[W]hat's risen in their place? Corporate America.
  • Corporations are good things. They encourage people to take risk. They're smart vehicles for building wealth, but they also have to be controlled. ...[T]he reason is, they are soulless entities. A corporation has no morals and its purpose is to make money. ...If we have to induce diabetes in millions of children by getting them to drink sugary soft drinks and eat too many french fries and greasy hamburgers, [corporations will] do that.
  • We have to... channel... greed so that it becomes useful to our society.
  • Our system for identifying and promoting military officers for leadership actually works. In my biography of Donald Trump I cite the Army Field Manual 6, which is the selection of officers for promotion because they have leadership skills. ...[S]omeone ...had reduced this to 6 basic lessons. Do you take responsibility for what you do? Do you credit other people? Are you open to recognizing a mistake and correcting it, etc. ...Donald Trump flunks every one of those measures. ...But, because he doesn't have real leadership skills, he's who he is. He's a con man and a con artist. He's not a business man, he's a cash extractor who gets a hold of a business, takes cash out of it and puts it aside. He's not capable of being a tyrant and taking over the country. ...But we need to worry about what happens when someone comes along who has a really deep philosophy.
  • Adolf Hitler had a really deep philosophy. ...It came out of a hundred years of German and Polish and Austrian and Russian and Belarus and Ukrainian philosophy about the "Demon Jews" and the Romanis and the "cripples"
  • What about competent managers? ...Vladimir Putin seems to be a reasonably competent manager... the leader of the biggest international gang in the world. These are the criminals who stole the wealth of the old Soviet... and the way that criminal gang leaders work... "This is your territory, that's your territory. Don't bother me. If there's a problem I'll intervene. If necessary I'll have one of you wacked. Because I want to do what I want to do." By the way, that's the way the Pharaohs operated in Egypt. "I don't want to deal with people's petty problems." So they set up the equivalent of a modern wage and hour court in 1350 BC. You delegate... you set certain boundaries. That's how tyrants operate.
  • [T]here are people in this country looking at what's going on... and either for themselves or someone they think they can put in that [tyrannical] position. ...Every politician has people around them who are going to promote them. ...There are people... that realize that Americans have become so disconnected... so amenable to messages like "all taxes are bad."... Tax is the most vile three-letter word in America.
  • Trying to get people to understand, as I'm going to try and do in my next book, that we can have a wholly different tax system that will actually make us wealthier... 'The Prosperity Tax'... It's going to be a tough sell because so many people have been brainwashed on this. ...Trying to tell them that we created this country so that we could tax ourselves.
  • Think about someone who's like Donald Trump in that he has... charisma... You've got to give it to Donald, he's a great con man. He's got these audiences wrapped around his finger. People who believe literally... He looks up to the sky. He implies that he's God. Did you see any pastors or rabbis or imams saying that's sacrilegious?
  • [Trump] just now has someone on his staff in the White House who basically says the Democrats are demonic. ...[I]t's really quite shocking to see what this person who's... what I call a faux Christian. She's a "God wants me to be rich, so send me money and God will love you" sort of person. These kinds of folks, they're looking to advance their interests because they aren't thinking about the society around them. They're [not] thinking about anything in the New Testament, about your obligation to your fellow citizen. They think "I'm in this for me and how do I get this to work for me" and that's how tyrants work.
  • So imagine somebody who has Donald's charisma, but first rate management skills... actually knows how to be an executive and get things done, how to prioritize, how to follow-up, how to select people and hold them accountable, and who doesn't believe you should be able to question what he does.
  • That's what I'm worried about... the tyrant next time.

See also


Quotes about Johnston

  • Johnston's book... dismisses with the hyperbole and makes his argument for the absurdity, department by department, issue by issue, lie by lie. ...[W]hat I most appreciated about Johnston's writing was that while I was already hyper-aware of Trump's ignorance... he takes known news stories... and explains them in detail.
    • Kelly Konrad, "It's Even Worse Than You Think" is the book you need to read (January 20, 2018) ChicagoNow, from the Chicago Tribune.
  • For his penetrating and enterprising reporting that exposed loopholes and inequities in the U.S. tax code, which was instrumental in bringing about reforms. ...Born in San Francisco on Dec. 24, 1948, Mr. Johnston studied economics and law at the University of Chicago. He also studied at Michigan State and San Francisco State University in 1972 and 1973 to 1975.
    • The 2001 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Beat Reporting (2001) "David Cay Johnston of The New York Times", The Pulitzer Prizes
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