The Vultures of Wall Street

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For the United States in 2017, the economy is growing, unemployment is low, and consumer confidence is at a decade-long high. Though this would normally create a retail boom, more chains are filing for bankruptcy and rated distressed than at the height of the Great Recession. Cities across the country are facing 6,800 store closings which has become known as the retail apocalypse. This year 19 retail companies have declared bankruptcy including Radio Shack, The Limited, Payless, and Toys “R” Us. Naturally people like to point at Amazon but e-commerce sales in the second quarter only hit 8.9% of sales. So it’s not like these stores are necessarily hurting for business despite declining sales. Besides, most of the retailers already have online stores.

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Here’s a chart on the stores closing due to the retail apocalypse. Though we often blame Amazon for this and declining sales, the real cause for this is far more insidious than you can even imagine.

However, the real reason why so many companies are sick has little to do with technological disruption. Rather with debt and a predatory financial scheme. Over the past decade, private equity firms bought numerous chain stores and loaded them up with unsustainable debt payments as part of their business strategy. Billions of dollars of this debt comes due within the next few years. As Bloomberg wrote in a recent article, “If today is considered a retail apocalypse, then what’s coming next could truly be scary.” The retail sector has already lost hundred thousand jobs from October 2016 to April 2017. In the following June, 1,000 stores closed within a week. And it will only get worse. This year only $100 million in retail debt came due this year. But there will be $1.9 billion next year and $5 billion on average due between 2019-2025. This threatens retail sales and cashiers who make up 6% of the entire US workforce and a total of 8 million jobs. And since these workers aren’t confined to any one region, the entire country will share their pain. In the Pittsburgh area where I live, 26.8% of retail loans are delinquent. States like Michigan, Illinois, West Virginia, and Ohio are among the hardest hit where retail employment has declined over the last decade and those will likely spread. Meanwhile, any states like Florida, Arkansas, and Nevada have overly relied on retail for job growth and will feel more pain as the fallout deepens. States like Alabama, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Mississippi, and South Carolina have the highest concentration of cashiers. As the debt comes due, expect more displaced low-income workers, shrinking local tax bases, and investor losses on stocks, bonds, and real estate.

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The tragedy of Sears is a major example of how private equity can be so insidious. Once a retail bastion, it’s now facing bankruptcy thanks to overbearing debt and mismanagement by hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert.

The most famous example of this is Sears which is now closing hundreds of stores and facing bankruptcy. Once a bastion in America’s consumer-based economy, it has been run to the ground by none other than hedge-fund king Eddie Lampert. A former Yale roommate of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, arranged the Sears-Kmart merger and immediately started shifting revenue to shareholders. In addition, he spent $6 billion on stock buybacks to reward investors and raise the share price. More importantly, Lampert personally lent billions to Sears Kmart which increased its corporate debt. As its in-store sales lagged, Sears sold off major assets like its Craftsman brand tools and Land’s End outdoor equipment to pay for the loans. He also split ownership of 266 Sears and Kmart buildings into a real estate investment firm called Seritage. Last year, Sears and Kmart stores paid $200 million in rent on these properties they once owned which ate up its operating revenue. Even as Sears’ very existence is in question, Lampert will likely come out ahead. He’s enjoyed fees from all the lending to Sears and he’ll recoup more money in any restructuring even if Sears has to sell off inventory to do it. As Seritage’s shareholder, Lambert’s hedge funds can profit from higher rents charged to new retail outlets moving into shuttered Sears and Kmart locations. In fact just this year, a Kmart near where I lived and used to shop closed down and I knew some people who worked there.

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This is a Kmart store in Rostraver Township, Pennsylvania that’s near where I live. On June 7, 2017, it was announced this store was closing. I’ve shopped at this place on many occasions and knew some of the people who worked there. Kind of a shame. I’ve also heard that the Kmart in Mount Pleasant Township closed earlier this year as well. Kind of a shame.

Sears’s mismanagement reflects an ongoing pattern of private equity takeover artists benefitting from crippling the companies they purchase. Golden Gate Capital and Blum Capital, the 2 firms behind Payless, paid them $700 million in dividends in 2012 and 2013 on the company’s back. Payless filed for bankruptcy this year and closed 400 stores. Toys “R” Us filed for bankruptcy in September unable to sustain between $400-$500 million in annual interest payments on $5.2 billion long-term debt. Private equity firms, including Bain Capital and longtime firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, stripped out nearly $2 billion in cash as debt levels rose. And Toy “R” Us’s profitability was increasing when it filed for Chapter 11 since sales in the toy sector had been rising annually by 5% over the past 5 years.

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Toys “R” Us wasn’t among the worst casualties in the retail apocalypse. But its filing for bankruptcy in September came as a shock because its profitability had increased and its business was mostly stable. However, the real reason was that the toy store chain was overburdened with debt to private equity firms that bought it out in 2005.

What you see is a robbery in progress. Private equity firms borrow massively to buy companies and use corporate cash reserves to pay themselves back. Workers contributing the value to the business see nothing but the possible job cut since companies usually cut staff to service the debt. When the company collapses under the borrowing weight, all workers lose their jobs even when sales are up. Though troubled retailers have billions of borrowings on their balanced sheets like Sears, sustaining that load will only become more difficult even for healthy chains like Toys “R” Us. Private equity firms defend that their business model returns companies to fiscal health thanks to superior management. But this isn’t what we see in the retail apocalypse. Retail firms typically roll over debt to buy time and avoid bankruptcy. However, interest rates have increased since the last set of buyouts several years ago, making that prospect more expensive. Now these overleveraged companies are finding it difficult for anyone to agree to refinance. As a result, delinquent payments on shopping centers and other commercial real estate have spiked as high as one quarter of all loans in some parts of the country.

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This is a map from Bloomberg showing the concentration of retail jobs all over the country from 2016. Due to private equity overleveraging, the retail apocalypse will only get worse as debts come due. This could mean millions of Americans losing their jobs.

Yet, private equity firms don’t receive a lot of attention which is why I devised this handy FAQ for you to look at. If there is a reason we should care about private equity firms, is that they play a huge role in our economy. Though not all PE firms aren’t predatory finance schemes, many are. And the fact they’re less regulated than banks only exacerbates matters when these vulture capitalists put a company under. Predatory financial schemes hurt everyone. They kill jobs and businesses as well as ruin communities and whole economies. As of 2012, private equity firms own companies employing about 1 out of 10 Americans. This makes them hugely important since they’re basically America’s biggest employers. If you work for a PE-owned company, you might stand a chance of losing your job within the next few years. Now I’m not a fan of corporate America and have the criticized the retail industry for mistreating their workers on shit wages, unpredictable schedules, and anti-union activities. But I understand the retail industry does play a key role in the US economy. Even a shit job like cashier is a job nonetheless. And people rely on these jobs to support their families. Thus, I believe we need to understand what these private equity firms do and how many of them can be a business’s best friend or its worst nightmare. So here is a handy FAQ for reference. Besides, since millions of Americans will lose their jobs over private equity activities, they should know the truth as to why.

What is a private equity firm?

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This is a diagram of a private equity firm business model. Though I suppose more of an advertisement since it seems to create a positive image.

A private equity firm is an investment management company that provides financial backing and makes investments in the private equity of startup or operating companies through an array of loosely affiliated investment strategies. Usually described as a financial sponsor, each firm takes a bunch of money for a private equity fund and buys up these companies. They do this by usually matching rich people and institutions with more money than they know what to do with to middle market companies who need access to a steady flow of cash. First, the equity firm buys the company through an auction. Second, the firm then increases the company’s value whether through upgrading its accounting system, a procurement process and information technology, or laying off workers and closing unprofitable operations. In return, the private equity firm will receive a periodic management fee and a 20% share in the profits earned. With their investors, private equity firms will acquire a controlling or substantial minority position in a company and then look to maximize that investment’s value. And they generally receive a return on their investment through one or more of the following (if they’re lucky):

Initial Public Offering (IPO)- company’s shares are offered to the public, typically providing a partial immediate realization to the financial sponsor and public market into which it can later sell additional shares. Through his process, a privately held company transforms into a public one. IPOs are usually used by companies to raise the expansion of capital, possibly to monetize investments of early private investors, and become publicly traded enterprises. Companies selling shares are never required to repay its capital to public investors who pass money between each other afterwards. Although an IPO offers many advantages, there also significant disadvantages such as the costs usually associated with the process and the requirement to disclose information that could provide helpful information to competitors. Details of the proposed offering are disclosed to potential purchasers in the form of a lengthy document known as a prospectus. Most companies undertake an IPO with assistance from an investment firm acting in the capacity of an underwriter. Since underwriters provide several services like help with correctly assessing share value and establishing a public market for shares.

Merger and Acquisition (M&A)- one company is sold for either cash or shares in another. As an aspect of strategic management, M&A can allow enterprises to grow, shrink, and change the nature of their business or competitive position. From a legal perspective, a merger is a legal consolidation of 2 entities into one. Whereas, an acquisition occurs when one entity takes ownership of another entity’s stock, equity interests, or assets. From a commercial and economic point of view, both types of transactions generally result in consolidation of assets and liabilities under one entity and the distinction is less clear. A transaction legally structured as an acquisition may lead to placing one party’s business under the other party’s shareholders’ indirect ownership. At the same time, a transaction legally structured as a merger may give each party’s shareholders partial ownership and control of the combined enterprise. This deal may be euphemistically called a “merger of equals” if both CEOs agree that joining together is in the best interest of both of their companies. Meanwhile, when the deal is unfriendly (like when a target company’s management opposes the deal), it might simply be seen as an “acquisition.”

Recapitalization- cash is distributed to the shareholders (in this case the financial sponsor) and its private equity funds from a company’s cash flow or raising debt or other securities to fund the transaction. As a type of corporate reorganization involving substantial change in a company’s capital structure which may be motivated for a number of reasons. Usually, the large part of equity is replaced with debt. In more complicated transactions, mezzanine financing and other hybrid securities are involved.

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As you can see from this infographic, private equity is widespread. As you can see, they’re a major presence in the US economy. Of course, the industries they invest most into are consumer and information technology, which should surprise anyone.

But we should understand that often the effort to fix up the company fails and bankruptcy is the outcome. So while the rewards are great so are the risks. Back in 2012, The Wall Street Journal did an analysis of the 77 businesses Bain Capital invested during former Governor Mitt Romney’s tenure. It found that 22% either filed for bankruptcy or shut down within 8 years of Bain’s investment. Even several companies that initially provided Bain with huge profits later ran into trouble. Of the 10 deals producing more than 70% of Bain’s gains, 4 eventually filed for bankruptcy. But the companies that succeeded were hugely profitable as the Journal concluded that Bain turned $1.1 billion into $2.5 billion in gains in the 77 deals.

So they’re like hedge funds?
Not exactly. Private equity firms characteristically make longer-hold investments in target industry sectors or specific investment areas where they know a lot about. They also take on operational roles to manage risk and achieve growth through long-term investments. Private equity firms and investment funds shouldn’t be mistaken for hedge fund firms which typically make shorter-term investments in securities and other more liquid assets within an industry sector but with less direct influence and control over a specific company’s operations. And hedge fund firms usually bet on both the up and down sides of a business or an industry sector’s financial health.

What is a private equity fund?

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This is a diagram of a generic private equity fund. The private equity firm acts as the general partner while the limited partner investors usually supply the cash for the investments.

Private equity funds usually have a general partner (GP) raising capital from cash-rich institutional investors like pension plans, universities, insurance companies, foundations, endowments, and high-net-worth individuals investing as limited partners (LPs) in the fund. Before buying the company, the GP (who makes all the fund’s decisions), devises a plan for how much debt to use, how the company’s cash flow will be used to service the debt, and how the PE firm will exit at a profit. The private equity firm typically has very little of its own money at risk, only investing 2% or less in the fund while the LPs put up 98% of the equity. But it claims 20% of any gains from these companies’ subsequent sale. Among the terms set forth in the limited partnership are the following:

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Though I’ve already shown a private equity fund’s basic structure, here’s a more detailed chart. You can see the kinds of partners who invest as well as the strategies used.

Term of the Partnership- usually a fixed-life investment vehicle that’s 10 years plus some number of extensions.

Management Fees- annual payments made by investors in the fund to its manager to pay for the private equity firm’s investment operations (usually 1% or 2% of the committed capital to the fund).

Distribution Waterfall- the process in which the returned capital will be distributed to the investor and allocated between the Limited and General Partner. This waterfall includes the preferred return, which is the minimum rate of return (e.g. 8%) which must be achieved before the GP can receive any carried interest, which is the profit share paid to the GP above the preferred return (e.g. 20%).

Transfer of an Interest in the Fund- Private equity funds aren’t intended to be transferred or traded. Though they can be transferred to another investor but such transfer must receive the fund manager’s consent and is at the GP’s discretion.

Restrictions on the General Partner- the fund’s manager has significant discretion to make investments and control the fund’s affairs. However, the LPA does have certain restrictions and controls and is often limited in the type, size, or geographic focus of investments permitted, and how long the GP can make new ones.

Can you describe each private equity firm investment strategy?
Certainly. Here are some in depth descriptions of some major strategies. Though they’re not the only kind of ways private equity firms invests.

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The main investment strategy private equity firms uses is the leverage buyout. This involves buying a company with a combination of equity and debt and using its cash flow as collateral. In fact, it’s usually on the company to pay back the debts. This practice has been prone to plenty of overleveraging and abuse like in the case with Sears.

Leverage Buyout (LBO)- a financial transaction in which a company is purchased with a combination of equity and debt so its cash flow is the collateral used to secure and repay the borrowed money. Since the debt costs less than capital and equity, it serves to reduce the acquisition’s overall financing costs. After all debt costs less than capital and equity because interest payments reduce corporate income tax liability while dividend payments don’t. So the reduced financing costs allows greater gains to accrue to the equity, and as a result, the debt acts as a lever to increase the equity’s returns. Though usually employed when a financial sponsor acquires a company, many corporate transactions are usually funded by bank debt which can also represent an LBO. It could take many forms like management buyout (MBO), management buy-in (MBI), along with secondary and tertiary buyout among others. It can occur in growth situations, restructuring situations, and insolvencies. Though LBOs mostly occur in private companies, they can be employed with public companies, too (in a so-called PtP transaction-Public to Private). As financial sponsors increase their returns by employing a very high leverage (like a high ratio of debt to equity), they’re incentivized to employ as much debt as possible to finance an acquisition. In many cases, this can lead to “over-leveraging” in companies in which they don’t generate enough cash to pay their debt, leading to insolvency or to debt-to-equity swaps in which the equity owners lose control over their business to the lenders. This is the main strategy most private equity firms use and typically finance a buyout of a company with 30% equity and 70% debt. Private equity funds use the acquired company’s assets as collateral and put the burden of repayment on the company itself.

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This is a diagram illustrating how start-up companies are typically financed. First, the new firm seeks out “seed capital” and funding from “angel investors” and accelerators. Then if it can survive the “valley of death” (when the start up’s trying to develop on a “shoestring” budget), the firm can seek venture capital financing.

Venture Capital (VC)- a form if financing provided by firms or funds to small, early-stage, emerging funds either seen as highly profitable or potentially so. VCs invest in these early-stage companies in exchange for a return or an ownership stake in those they invest in. They take on the risk of financing risky startups in hopes that some of the firms they support will eventually succeed. The typical VC investment occurs after an initial “seed funding” round also called the Series A Round. A VC will provide this financing in the interest of generating a return through an eventual “exit” event such as the company selling shares to the public for the first time in an IPO or through its merger or acquisition (a.k.a. “trade sale”). In addition to angel investing, equity crowdfunding, and other seed funding options, VC is attractive for new companies with limited operating histories that are too small to raise capital in the public markets and haven’t reached the point where they could secure a bank loan or complete a debt offering. In exchange for the high risk that VCs assume by investing in smaller and early stage companies, they usually get significant control over their decisions along with a portion of their ownership (and consequently value). They also often provide strategic advice to the firm’s executives on its business model and marketing strategies. Additionally, VC is also a way in which the private and public sectors can build an institution that systematically creates business networks for the new firms and industries so they could progress and develop. The VC institution helps identify promising new firms and provide them with finance, technical, expertise, mentoring, marketing “know how,” and business models. Once integrated into the business network, these firms are more likely to succeed as they become “nodes” in the search networks for designing and building products in their domain. However, VC decisions are often biased as well as exhibit an instance of overconfidence and illusion of control like entrepreneurial decisions in general.

Growth Capital- a private equity investment (usually minority investment), in relatively mature companies that are looking for capital to expand or restructure operations, enter new markets, or finance a significant acquisition without a change or control of the business. Companies seeking growth capital will often do so to finance a transformational event in their lifecycle. Unlike VC-funded companies, growth capital companies usually able to make a profit but can’t generate sufficient cash to fund major expansions, acquisitions, or other investments. Because of this lack of scale, these companies generally can find few alternative conduits to secure capital for growth. Thus, access to growth equity can be critical to pursuing necessary facility expansion, sales and marketing initiatives, equipment purchases, and new product development. Growth capital can also be used to affect a restructuring of a company’s balance sheet, particularly to reduce the amount of leverage (or debt). Growth capital is often structured as the preferred equity, though certain investors use various hybrid securities including a contractual return (like interest payments) in addition to an ownership interest in the company. Often, companies seeking that growth capital investments aren’t good candidates to borrow additional debt, either because of the stability of the company’s earnings or existing debt levels.

Mezzanine Financing- any subordinated debt or preferred equity instrument representing a claim on the company’s assets that’s senior only to that of common shares. It can be structured as either debt (usually an unsecured or subordinate note) or preferred stock. It’s often a more expensive financing source for a company than secured or senior debt. The higher cost of capital associated with mezzanine financing is due to it being unsecured, subordinated (or junior) obligation in a company’s capital structure. Should that company default or go bankrupt, mezzanine financing is only paid after all senior obligations are satisfied. Additionally, since it’s usually a private placement, mezzanine financing is often used by smaller companies and may involve greater leverage levels than issues in the high-yield market which involve additional risk. But in compensation for the increased risk, a mezzanine debt holder requires a higher return for their investment than a more senior debt holder.

Distressed Securities- securities over companies or government entities experiencing financial or operational distress, default, or are under bankruptcy. As far as debt securities, this is called distressed debt. Purchasing or holding distressed debt creates significant risk due to the possibility that bankruptcy may render such securities worthless (zero recovery). Deliberate investment in distressed securities as a strategy while potentially lucrative is significantly risky as the security may become worthless. Doing so requires significant levels of resources and expertise to analyze each instrument and assess its position in an insurer’s capital structure along with the likelihood of ultimate recovery. Distressed securities tend to trade at a substantial discounts to their intrinsic or par value and are considered below investment grade. This usually limits the number of potential investors to large institutional investors like hedge funds, private equity firms, and investment banks.

Why would anyone invest in a private equity fund?

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Though private equity has earned a reputation as corporate saboteurs outside Wall Street, this kind of investment is quite popular among investors. As you can tell from these stats, the notion of private equity won’t go away soon.

Private equity funds are illiquid and managed by active investors. Those familiar with common index funds such as those of ordinary investors might hold in their investment portfolios might lead you to believe a private equity fund investment is foolish. But private equity funds do have a number of good advantages.

1. Taking companies private is incredibly profitable- When a private equity firm takes a company private from the public market, it has 100% of the ownership and thus can claim all its profits and control all capital allocation. Thus private equity firms have unlimited control over what goes on in the company unlike public equity investors. So they could claim all cash flows in the company.

2. Equity returns in short time frames- It wouldn’t be wise to invest in a portfolio of 100% stock if you’ll need the money within the next 5-7 years. Yet, since private equity firms take companies private, they reap the full ownership benefits (profits) and then resell the companies within 5-7 years in the future. During this time period, private equity investors receive equity-like returns in a time period that would only be safe for fixed-income investments.

3. Leverage- Private equity funds take money from investors and then leverage it with bank loans and bond issues from their newly acquired companies to boost returns for their investors. If a private equity firm takes a company private at 10x earnings of 10% per year, it can do very well for its limited partners by leveraging those earnings with cheap debt. It’s kind of like buying real estate, which when leveraged with bank loans, can be an excellent one.

4. Exits- Private equity funds are designed to exist only for a period of spanning less than a decade. When the fund reaches the end of its designed life, it “exits” its holding by selling them. A common exit is to sell a private equity position to a competing firm or to list private companies on the public markets through an IPO.

Why would a company seek private equity financing?

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Here’s a cycle of private equity financing from a firm’s site. Though this seems more catered to investors and has a rather positive spin on it.

Private equity financing provides several advantages to companies such as the following.

1. Active involvement- Unlike other funding options, private equity firms are much more hands on and will help a company reevaluate every aspect of their business to see how it can maximize its value. Having experienced professionals in a business can also result in major improvements.

2. Incentives- Private equity firms need a business to succeed since they borrow a lot of money to make their investments and have to pay that back and generate a return for their investors. Individual partners in private equity firms often have their own money invested as well and make additional money from performance fees if they make a profit. So they have strong incentive to increase a company’s value.

3. Large amounts of funding- Private equity can provide larger amounts of money than other options since deals are usually measured in hundreds of millions of dollars. This kind of money can have a massive impact on a company.

4. High Returns- Combinations of major funding, expertise, and incentives can be very powerful on companies. According to a 2012 study by the Boston Consulting Group, more than 2/3 of private equity deals resulted in the company’s annual profits grow by at least 20% while nearly half of the deals generated a profit growth of over 50% a year or more.

5. Patient Investors- Since private equity firms invest in a company to make it more valuable within a number of years before selling to a buyer appreciating the lasting value created, their investors are less concerned with short-term performance targets though they do have their eyes on the prize. Sometimes such firms are also known to offer private equity back office services to other firms or companies needing them for investments.

What are the disadvantages of private equity financing?
At the same time, private equity financing come with an array of disadvantages such as the following.

1. Dilution/Loss of Ownership Stake- Other funding options let the owner still stay in control of the company despite the investment’s costs. A company may receive much more money with private equity, but the owner has to give up a large share of the business. Private equity firms often demand a majority stake and sometimes leave the owner with little or nothing in ownership. It’s a bigger trade and one many business owners balk at.

2. Loss of Management Control- Beyond money, a business owner can lose direct control of their company. The private equity firm would want to be actively involved which can be a good thing. But it can mean losing control of basic elements in the business like setting strategy, hiring and firing employees, and choosing the management team. Since the private equity firm’s stake is usually higher, the loss of control is much greater. This is especially true when it comes to the private equity firm’s “exit strategy” which might involve selling the business outright or other options that don’t form part of the owner’s plans. Then there’s the fact that private equity decision-making has been shown to suffer from cognitive bias such as illusion of control and overconfidence.

3. Different Definitions of Value- Private equity firms exist to invest in companies, make them more valuable, and sell their stakes in large profits. Mostly this can be good for the companies involved since any business owner would want to create more value. But a private equity firm’s definition of value is very specific and limited since it’s focused on a business’s financial value on a particular date about 5 years after the initial investment when the firm sells its stake and books a profit. Business owners, by contrast have a much broader definition of value with a longer-term outlook and more concern for relationships with employees and customers as well as reputation. Such difference can lead to clashes.

4. Eligibility- Private equity firms look for particular types of companies to invest in which have to be large enough to support those major investments and offer potential for large profits in a relatively short time frame. This means that a company must have very strong growth potential or it’s in financial difficulties and is currently undervalued. A business that can’t offer investors a lucrative investment within 5 years will struggle to attract interest from private equity firms.

5. Debt Accumulation- Private equity firms use significant amounts of debt to perform deals in financial markets. This can significantly damage not only the company who has to pay for the debt but also to investors and financial markets as well. Not to mention, they charge their companies a bunch of hidden fees. They also make the companies sell their real estate and pay a higher rent to remain on the property, too.

6. Lack of Transparency- Though oversight on private equity firms has increased since 2008, they’re still less regulated than more traditional forms of financing. Private equity also adheres to some practices that alarm politicians. One tactic is a fee-waiver conversion which intentionally directs a greater amount of an investor’s capital away from higher-taxed fees and into a more favorably taxed category.
So what’s with the vulture capitalist reputation?

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Though not all private equity firms are vulture capitalists, there are plenty of large firms that have acquired such reputation. One of these was Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital as you can see on this cartoon chart.

Private equity firms are notorious for making money for their investors without regard to stakeholders in the business. In most cases, private equity firms acquire the kinds of companies that are already in poor financial health, lack a competitive environment, or have poor managers. They want to acquire companies cheap and that means buying companies they believe have more value than Wall Street is willing to realize. Sometimes this means buying companies everyone knows will go out of business. Sometimes a private equity fund performs as advertised using reasonable amounts of debt and providing access to management and expertise and financial resources. This usually involved smaller companies with few assets that can be mortgaged but many opportunities for operational improvements.

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This is Joshua Kosman. In 2009, he wrote a book called The Buyout of America arguing that private equity firms are terrible and will cause the next credit crisis. In his intro he writes, “I believe the record shows that PE firms hurt their businesses competitively, limit their growth, cut jobs without reinvesting the savings, do not even generate good returns for their investors, and are about to cause the Next Great Credit Crisis. Leadership is needed to rally opposition to close the tax loopholes that make this very damaging activity possible.” So far this year’s retail apocalypse is proving him right.

However, the reality is that private equity firms almost always buy larger and profitable companies that already have modern management systems in place as well as substantial assets that can be mortgaged. Here, private equity firms use debt and financial engineering strategies to extract resources from healthy companies. This earns them a reputation for using strategies that critics say play out more as “vulture capitalism”- a phrase that some people use to describe the process where investors make enormous profits while needlessly laying off workers. Private equity investors may increase their investment in companies they own by replacing senior management, reducing the workforce, selling off assets, and essentially gutting the company for profit. A private equity firm could buy a sizeable company, load it up with debt, and then take the money out. After improving their short-term earnings through cuts, it can borrow money and pay itself a dividend. In good times, it can collect a disproportionate share of the investment returns. But this can set up that company for failure and financial vulnerability. If the debt can’t be repaid, the company, its workers, and its creditors bear the costs. Yet, even when a company fails, a private equity firm still makes money. For instance, from 1987-1995, 22% of the money Bain Capital invested in funds raised went to companies that eventually went bankrupt. But Bain made $578 million, comprising of the bulk of these companies’ profits. Under Mitt Romney, 4 of Bain’s 10 biggest investments ended up bankrupt yet the firm still made a killing. Today, it’s no surprise that private equity activity’s often said to focus on short-term profits over a company’s long term health.

But do they improve businesses? According to author Josh Kosman, that may not be so. Out of the 25 biggest buyouts in the 1990s, 52% of those companies ended up bankrupt. Among the 10 biggest, private equity improved only one of the businesses. In 3 cases, the results were mixed while the other 6 companies would’ve been better off had the private equity firm not acquired them. A report from Moody’s back in 2012 showed that in the 40 biggest leveraged buyouts that took place from 2005-2008, these companies saw a revenue increase by 4% while their strategic peers saw profits rise by 14%.

Another criticism is that studying private equity returns is relatively difficult since private equity funds don’t disclose performance data. As these firms invest in private companies, it’s difficult to examine the underlying investments. Comparing private equity to public equity performance is challenging because private equity fund investments are drawn and returned over time as investments are made and subsequently realized. Commentators have argued that a standard methodology is needed to present an accurate picture of performance, to make individual private equity funds comparable and so the asset class as a whole can be matched against public markets and other types of investment. There’s also a claim that private equity firms manipulate data to present themselves as strong performers, making it even more essential to standardize the industry. It’s even worse that private equity firms aren’t as regulated as banks.

Can you describe some shady private equity firm financial engineering practices?

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Here’s a chart on the rates in which private equity firms have stripped assets on retailers. Much of this took place in the mid-2010s. Through junk bonds and leveraged loans to fund special dividends to PE owners, retail stores have lost billions in their assets. What a shame.

Certainly. After a buyout, private equity firms often engage in financial engineering that further compromise their portfolio companies. They might have companies take out loans at junk bond rates and use the proceeds to pay themselves and their investors a dividend. They might split a real estate rich company into an operating company and a property company. They then sell off the real estate and repay investors while the operating company must lease back the property and pay the (often inflated) rent. As you can see, this is what Eddie Lampert did to Sears. They may require their companies to pay monitoring fees to the PE firm for unspecified services. Paying these fees reduces the companies’ liquidity cushion and puts them at risk.

What happens to portfolio companies and workers?

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Here is a list of companies private equity firm KKR owns. Some of the these brands you might recognized, especially Toys “R” Us which filed for bankruptcy.

In these situations, financial engineering results are predictable. In bad economic times, these companies’ high debt levels (especially in cyclical industries) make them seriously vulnerable to default and bankruptcy. According to one economic study, roughly a quarter of highly leveraged companies defaulted on their debts during the last recession. Though the financial crisis officially ended in 2009, bankruptcies among PE-owned companies continued through 2015. In 2007, a PE consortium acquired Energy Future Holdings which defaulted with $35.8 million in debt in 2014. In 2006, a PE acquired the Las Vegas-based Caesar Entertainment whose long-term debt more than doubled by mid-2007. In 2015, it declared bankruptcy putting over 30,000 union workers at risk. Rigorous econometric studies back these job loss cases. One study found that through 2005, PE-owned establishments had significantly lower employment and wages post buyout than comparable publicly-traded companies. Though PE-owned establishments experienced higher wages and employment growth than their counterparts in their buyout year. But employment rates at PE-owned companies were 3-6.7% lower after 2 years and 6% lower after 5 years.

What happens to the Limited Partner investors?

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Here’s another chart detailing which companies private equity owns. Many of these will surprise you. But some of them won’t.

Private equity fund performance depends importantly on how investment returns are measured. Private equity firms use the “internal rate of return” (IRR). Finance economists use the “public market equivalent” which compares returns in PE investments from comparable stock market ones. Recent academic studies find that buyout funds don’t deliver outsized returns to investors. Despite industry claims, private equity funds haven’t beaten the stock market since 2006. A recent study indicates a downward trend in PE performance finding that the median PE fund outperformed the S&P 500 by 1.75% in the 1990s and by 1.5% in the 2000s. Private equity returns also need adjustment for PE investments’ greater riskiness. Industry analysts and most investors assume that private equity fund returns should exceed stock market returns by 3%. More than half of US PE funds have failed to meet that standard over the past 25 years. Average PE returns are upwardly skewed by top quartile funds’ outperformance. But recent research shows it’s no longer possible to predicts which funds will outperform the stock market. GPs with top quartile funds have about a 25-cent chance that their next fund will do the same. Same goes for GPs with bottom quartile funds.

What should the US do about private equity firms?
We must hold our politicians responsible for the looming retail apocalypse. After all, our tax code privileges debt by making corporate interest payments tax-deductible. Private equity firms that gut companies and walk away receive tax subsidies to pull it off. This incentivizes them to borrow even more to run the game again. Even more importantly, we need to look at these asset-stripping schemes with more skepticism. The Securities and Exchange Commission can and should police these designed-to-fail corporate bonds resulting from these leveraged buyouts. The SEC should also go after banks underwriting these deals and earning fees off of companies’ misery.

The House Republican tax bill proposed a cap on deductibility on interest payments over 30% of a company’s earnings. The Senate bill defines earnings in such a way to reduce that cap even further. This should discourage some debt-fueled buyouts which private equity firms don’t like. However, the GOP tax plan exempts real estate companies which leaves a gaping loophole. This could help private equity firms that split their business’s operating side from the property side like Sears did. And enable them to put all the borrowing onto the property side and keep deducting the interest. Not to mention, most of the Republican tax bill is a piece of shit that punishes most Americans who don’t own a yacht. So I wouldn’t advocate the Republican tax plan to crack down on private equity anytime soon.

Nevertheless, don’t expect that Donald Trump will do anything about and we shouldn’t be surprised. The Trump administration will likely continue aiding wealthy financiers through regulatory neglect since those people are their donors. Recently, Comptroller of Currency Keith Noreika broke with a years-long crackdown on high-risk corporate lending, signaling that these private equity firms should issue more debt. It’s a shame we don’t have regulators willing to protect workers, investors, and the economy. Because private equity is accelerating a decline that will affect millions in every major city. To do nothing is to let it continue.

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Have You No Sense of Decency?

On Thursday, November 9, 2017, the Washington Post revealed that Alabama Republican Senate frontrunner Roy Moore had allegedly made sexual advances on or engaged in sexual activity with a number of teen girls as young as 14 while in his 30s during the late 1970s. The next day, another woman came forward alleging that Moore sexually assaulted her at 16 and showed his signature on her high school yearbook as proof. For any politician, allegations of pedophilia would’ve resulted in nothing less than widespread condemnation and an end to their political careers. In an interview with Sean Hannity, Moore has called the Washington Post story, “completely false and misleading,” he said he “didn’t dispute” that he “dated a lot of young ladies.” He noted that he “recognized the names” of at least two of the women named in the Post investigation. On CNN, former prosecutor Tessa Jones stated, “it was common knowledge that Roy dated high school girls,” and that “everyone we knew thought it was weird.” She then added, “We wondered why someone his age would hang out at high school football games and the mall.” A dozen people in Gadsen, Alabama remarked on how Moore used to frequent the mall and was reportedly banned for trying to pick up teenage girls.

Not surprisingly, politicians from both parties are calling for Roy Moore to step down from the Senate race against Democrat Doug Jones. The Republican establishment has severed all ties to Moore. But Moore still has a chance to win while many of his supporters have remained noticeably silent. Those who did speak out dismissed the allegations as a Democratic plot or smear campaign and questioned the report’s timing weeks ahead of the December special election. His brother even compared the guy to Jesus. Others implied that Moore’s acts aren’t that bad because, according to Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter.” He then added, “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.” Really? A little unusual? When Brietbart Milo Yiannopoulos earlier was caught speaking light on pedophilia, nobody remarked how it wasn’t illegal or immoral. In fact, he lost his book deal with Simon and Schuster, lost his spot at CPAC, lost speaking gigs, and had to resign from Brietbart. In short his career was ruined. But here we have Moore who’s reputed to date teenage girls and people rise to his defense.

To invoke Mary and Joseph to excuse pedophilia is absolutely disgusting on so many levels. First of all, it implies that Roy Moore’s desire and behavior toward these teenage girls was normal (even if the Alabama age of consent is 16). Except that a 30-some-year-old man’s conduct toward teen girls is not. In fact, an adult dating teenage girls is immoral and in some states illegal, especially if the girl is 14. If a grown man pursues teenage girls, it’s about control. Second, using religion to excuse such egregious behavior is nothing short of abhorrent whether it involves Mary and Joseph or not. People have used religion to justify so many horrid things like terrorism, slavery, oppression, as well as all-out war and genocide. Third, to use Mary and Joseph to explain child molestation accusations is a textbook example of blasphemy, especially among Catholics. Regardless of what you believe about these two, most Christians believe they didn’t have premarital sex. Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant with Jesus. Even if she was a teenage girl and he was an adult man, Joseph’s willingness to stay with the pregnant Mary wasn’t an endorsement of underage sex. Furthermore, Ziegler’s defensive statement totally ignores the cultural context of Mary and Joseph’s relationship.

Even without the sexual assault allegations, Roy Moore is a terrible candidate who shouldn’t have won the Republican Alabama Senate nomination in the first place. A former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he’s best known for his history of fringe views, religious extremism, and refusal to obey federal court orders. He gained national spotlight by installing a large monument of the Ten Commandments in the state’s Supreme Court building and refused to remove it despite federal court orders, which resulted in his removal from office in 2003. But he ran for his old job in 2012 and won it back. But then in 2015, he refused enforce the US Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage which resulted in his suspension from the bench again and later his resignation. And while he once called being gay as “detestable,” his extremist views don’t just denigrate the LGBT community, He’s also stated that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress and that some American communities in the Midwest lived under Sharia law. He’s even a birther while his foundation has held events for Neo-Confederates that “promoted a history of the Civil War sympathetic to the Confederate cause, in which the conflict is presented as one fought over the federal government violating the South’s sovereignty as opposed to one fought chiefly over the preservation of slavery.” In 2007, he proclaimed that state involvement in early childhood education was characteristic of totalitarianism. Then there’s a campaign speech over racial divisions in which he said, “Now we have blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting, Democrats and Republicans fighting, men and women fighting. What’s going to unite us? What’s going to bring us back together? A president? A Congress? No. It’s going to be God.” Stuff like that alone should make any candidate unelectable. But since Alabama is a deeply conservative state, it’s entirely possible that conservative Alabama voters will back Roy Moore despite everything. In fact, a recent poll showed that 29% of the state’s voters say the allegations make them more likely to vote for Moore because of the sexual allegations. Whatever that means, it’s not an encouraging sign.

Still, the fact Republicans stand by Roy Moore despite the recent sexual misconduct allegations is extremely troubling. Of course, Alabama Republicans are defending him because they don’t want that Senate seat to go to a Democrat, let alone a former US Attorney who successfully prosecuted the 2 remaining KKK perpetrators of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing which killed 4 black girls. Because that would mean weaker control of the US Senate. Since Donald Trump ran for president, the Republican Party seems to think that the ends justify the means, especially among his white evangelical supporters. During the 2016 campaign, a Public Religion Institute poll found that the percentage of white evangelicals who thought immoral personal acts should disqualify a candidate from office fell from 64% in 2011 to 49% in 2016. By this time, the culture wars have become so toxic that many evangelicals saw getting “their guy” in power is more important than ensuring that “their guy” lives up to evangelical Christian standards of sexual morality. Now this isn’t just apparent among conservative evangelicals, but these facts indicate where the Republican Party is going. Sure they may call themselves good holy Christians and indeed they may be. But their support for Moore seems like they’ve sold their souls to the Devil. You have to wonder if they have any sense of decency to dump this guy. Or are they just too keen about holding power to care.

Whether their candidates fail to denounce white supremacists, sexually assault women, steal from employees, beat up reporters, have no qualifications, run fake charities, commit rampant fraud, enlist foreign power to meddle in election campaigns, or sexually prey on teenage girls, Republican voters tend to excuse, defend, and/or vote for them. No matter how reprehensible a candidate, they’ll support that person if they believe the right things, are in their party, and give these voters what they want. Even if their candidate wasn’t the person they wanted, they’ll support them anyway since anyone is better than a Democrat. However, voting for a thoroughly despicable candidate who shouldn’t be in office will only make you seem like you’re abandoning your principles for your own selfish interests and don’t care about the consequences. Supporting a candidate like Roy Moore or Donald Trump in any capacity will only make other people think less of you, especially if they win and turn out to be as bad as people said they are or worse (like in Trump’s case). In fact, I already think less of the people I know who voted for Trump which include friends, relatives, neighbors, and others in my community because supporting that unrespectable man in any capacity is completely indefensible. Personal morality might not be everything. But if a candidate’s personal behavior pertains to neglecting responsibility or inflicting terrible harm on others, then they shouldn’t be elected to public office. And from how I see it, it would be better for the Republican Party if conservative voters in Alabama dump Roy Moore and let the Democrat win. It might not be politically expedient to do so, but at least it shows they have a shred of character that many of his vocal supporters seem to lack.

Signs of a Sociopath (with Donald Trump)

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According to the Mayo Clinic, a sociopath is “a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.” Medical studies approximate that sociopaths consist of 4% of the population. Though we like to view them as serial killers and rapists on the 6 o’clock news, most live among us. It is possible you might know someone who’s a sociopath and not even be aware of it. They can be our neighbors, co-workers, friends, family members, and even our so-called “soul mates.” Most of the time you wouldn’t know how to identify a sociopath if you saw one. Since they’re usually members of a community people would never suspect of evil deeds and who can seamlessly blend into society like the rest of us. Nevertheless, sociopaths use and abuse people around them whether they be a serial killer, criminal, CEO, or anyone else. They may seem like normal or even likeable at first. But once they gain your trust through manipulation and lies, they will be your worst nightmare. Enter a romantic relationship with one, they will abuse you, neglect you, cheat on you, gaslight you, and break your heart. Do business with them, they will screw you out of the money and leave you having to take the fall. Be their friend and they’ll take every advantage of your kindness until you’re no longer useful to them. Work for them, and they’ll rule over you like a tyrant, exploiting you as they see fit as well as abusing their power for personal enrichment. Sociopaths can’t be trusted, can’t love you, and won’t own to their mistakes.

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Donald Trump has never been formally diagnosed as a sociopath. Nor do I have any professional credentials to make that diagnosis. Yet, he has exhibited the kind of behavior to merit such serious accusation that’s well worth considering. His Art of the Deal ghostwriter Tony Schwartz has a compelling case that Trump is this and he deeply regrets promoting his image. “I put lipstick on a pig,” he told the New Yorker in 2016. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.” To have a president who’s a sociopath is very scary and dangerous prospect. Already he has put the United States at grave risk of involving it in a war and undermining democracy itself. So much so that Trump’s presidency presents an emergency not only allowing, but possibly requiring, psychiatrists to deviate from the Goldwater Rule, which holds that it’s unethical for shrinks to give professional opinions about public figures without examining them in person. This year, 27 psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health professionals assessed Trump’s mental health based on his speech and behavior over the long course of his public life and conclude he’s a serious danger to the US and the world. And they argue that his mental health is affecting American people’s mental outlook. In October they released their findings in a book called The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. Even so, I bring my compelling case to state that Donald Trump is a sociopath based on these findings. Nevertheless, Trump is a very dangerous human being who shouldn’t be trusted. Though he claims to be a successful businessman with the best brain, he’s nothing but a complete and total fraud who wouldn’t be where he is if he wasn’t rich. He is and never will be your friend. He has no conscience and has no respect for America, its democratic values, or its people. He abuses his power for his own self-enrichment. To support him is to enable his destructive behavior to wreak havoc on the US and the world. And to have him as President of the United States is morally indefensible and supporting him should never be tolerated.

1. Superficial Charm-Sociopaths know they don’t have a conscious and don’t feel the same love, empathy, and remorse “neurotypical” people do. To conceal their “strangeness” and get what they want from others, they learn how to “pass” in society. As they mimic “neurotypical” people, they become adept at charming them through “mirroring” those they meet. In other words, they get to know and use what they know about them in order to appear to have the same interests and values. Sociopaths can also mimic non-sociopaths’ facial expressions to more effectively charm them. In the beginning, being mirrored can be quite enchanting. But it’s just a mask they wear in order to get what they want from you. As you get to know them better, the superficial charm wears down as the victim starts noticing red flags such as lying and cheating. Such awareness creates a cognitive dissonance or a feeling that the image the sociopath projects doesn’t reflect their actual self. Though a sociopath’s victim might find cognitive dissonance rather confusing and disturbing. But it’s a sign of emotional abuse though victims mentally push it away. (Even I can’t doubt that Donald Trump is a very effective self-promoter who has been able to resonate with a significant legion of loyal supporters. Even before that, he was able to convince enough people to invest or work in his business projects even if they got nothing in the end. Still, whenever you hear anything bad about Trump from the media, expect Trump voters to view it as fake news. Still, those who believe and trust in Trump with running the country are enabling him to inflict his destructive tendencies on the American people, if not the world.)

2. Glibness– To be glib is to speak seemingly off the cuff but often to deceive. Sociopaths can use jokes, puns, and deflections to avoid serious discussions about real problems. Though it may seem unintentional, it’s not and it’s a sign the sociopath wants to move the conversation away from difficult issues which they don’t want to address head-on. (Donald Trump has often attacked his opponents personally or ignite some controversy to distract the media from negative press about him or his policies. Or when approached on some matter he really doesn’t want to discuss. Let’s just say glibness is Trump’s PR strategy and it’s one that works for his supporters. He may seem like he’s speaking from the heart at his rallies, but he has deceitful ends for doing so.)

3. Egoism– Sociopaths have swollen egos with narcissistic features and often see their lack of emotional depth and incapacity to love as weapons in their private (and sometimes public) wars they wage against those they want to manipulate and/or ruin. They feel an “edge” over non-sociopaths who feed into their sense of superiority. Since society often rewards those moving through life with an obvious self-love, their incredible confidence might seem exciting at first. Thanks to their sheer impact of their epic and outsized self-confidence, younger sociopaths tend to reap quite a few rewards and open a lot of doors. Signs of a narcissistic ego include bragging about their looks, vanity, bragging about positive encounters with celebrities or other VIPs, and bragging about sexual performance and/or exploits. Though the braggart might initially come across as a lovable clown, their potent egoism extends to grandiosity and indicates that something is really wrong with them. A sociopath’s sense of their own abilities and looks is insanely elevated which means they will put others on lower rungs. In other words, you will be below them and so will everyone else. You are there to be led by a puppet-master who’s chosen you as his toy. Sociopaths also enjoy belittling others and this type of bullying is indicative of egoism. Many sociopaths may give clues to who they really are, even if they frame it as a joke. If they call themselves “bad” or “evil,” they’re actually bragging what’s inside and want this darkness recognized. (Egoism is Donald Trump’s defining trait. He often notes how he’s such a good businessman or how smart he is. And yes, he’s bragged about his looks, positive encounters with celebrities, and even his sex life. Not to mention, his incessant bullying of those who challenge or criticize him is legendary. His insanely inflated ego might make comedians look forward to see him as a joke before he ran for president. But anyone who’s been on the receiving end of his attacks or exploits sees his excessive egoism as much more sinister.)

4. Grandiosity– This refers to a sustained view of oneself as better than everyone which causes the individual to view others with disdain or as inferior and sometimes reaching to delusional proportions. To spot grandiosity, look for disdain in others. A sociopath may regularly make racist statements. They may relate to individuals or creatures notorious for inflicting significant damage to humanity or God like the Devil, gangsters, or war criminals. (It’s very clear that Donald Trump has a disdain for others including people who support him. He’s made appallingly racist statements in public to the glee of white supremacists. He has spoken highly of dictators notorious for inflicting human rights abuses and suppressing civil liberties like Vladimir Putin, for instance.)

5. High Sensation Seeker– Sociopaths live in a state of constant boredom since their inner lives are virtually non-existent. Most of them seek out constant stimulation to make up for emotions they can’t feel as well as the dulled emotions they do. Since any feelings they do experience like lust, anger, irritation, envy, and fleeting happiness are usually quite weak, flickering into their consciousness before dissipating as quickly as they come. Since fleeting emotions come and go so rapidly to leave them empty, sociopaths find boredom as their biggest challenge in life. The most powerful emotion a sociopath feels is anger. Hell, they may even like to be angry since it’s better to feel something than so little (as they typically do). A sociopath may try to access sensation through creating drama and chaos on purpose and at frequent intervals. A lot of a sociopath’s bad behavior, including lawbreaking, cheating, and mind games (or worse), are related to alleviating boredom and accessing higher sensations. And since they don’t feel bad about what they do, they’re able to push things to the edge. Still, sensation-seeking can happen in many ways like juggling multiple romantic relationships, reckless driving, substance abuse, or seeking out deviant adventures in riskier locales. (Unlike many sociopaths, Donald Trump doesn’t drink {though there are rumors he uses cocaine}. However, he often creates drama and chaos through this Twitter rants over things he doesn’t like or his feuds with the media and celebrities. He’s also a sexual predator known to cheat on his wives. Not to mention, Tony Schwartz has told the New Yorker that he has a stunningly short attention span, “Trump has been written about a thousand ways from Sunday, but this fundamental aspect of who he is doesn’t seem to be fully understood. It’s implicit in a lot of what people write, but it’s never explicit—or, at least, I haven’t seen it. And that is that it’s impossible to keep him focused on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then.”)

6. Frequent and Compulsive Lying– Sociopaths lie constantly to everyone in their lives, even when it’s not strictly necessary. In fact, people may begin to suspect that someone in their life is more evil than anticipated because they’ve uncovered lies. Things stop adding up because words and actions don’t agree. Once you get to know a sociopath, they often seem shady and dishonorable. A sociopath often wears a different mask customized just for the people in their lives since it’s all about manipulation and reputation management. Some lower-functioning sociopaths have great difficulty getting their lives straight and will try to rewrite history or change the subject if called out. A sociopath will lie to protect oneself to from the exposure they dread above all else. They will lie to manipulate people to give them what they want and keep them under their control. They don’t love or respect the people around them. They might like them, but they’re just simply pawns to be used to get what the sociopath wants. And they take equal advantage of everyone. Their desire to win for rewards often drive their lies. When someone believes them, the sociopath feels an addictive surge of raw power that might be seen as a pure sensation taking away the sense of “black hole” where a loving heart and conscience should be. (This is another one of Donald Trump’s defining traits. He constantly breaks promises he’s made, most of which he never intended to follow through in the first place. He peddles conspiracy theories on his Twitter feed, even if they’re blatantly ridiculous and thoroughly debunked. He propagates false, often malicious stories while using his time-honored high office to blame and squash high level public servants, judges, and his own subordinates. He constantly tries to discredit the media whenever they release negative stories about him. His dishonest in his business dealings is shocking and unprecedented as he’s been a defendant in thousands of lawsuits brought upon by service providers and vendors whom he failed to pay for services rendered to him or his business organizations. And it’s abundantly clear that failing/refusing to pay vendors is part of Trump’s business model. As Tony Schwartz said about him, “Lying is second nature to him. More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.” As of writing this in 2017, the Washington Post fact-checkers determined that Trump has chalked up 1,100 false and misleading claims in the first 10 months of his presidency. These include outrageous lies about Obama bugging his phones and his inauguration crowd size.)

7. No Guilt or Sense of Responsibility– Lacking a guilty conscience, a sociopath can move from one bad act or another without feeling any sense of moral wrongness or personal responsibility. Sociopaths can’t feel your pain unless they make a conscience effort to do so, which doesn’t happen very often. This guiltlessness is accompanied by lack of shame and no sense of responsibility. And it’s one of the primary reasons why most sociopaths seem extremely immature. It’s like they’re adults frozen in a permanent adolescence since they lack the emotional tools to learn from experience. They might claim they want to do better in the future and sound very believable saying so. But they can’t learn for their impulsiveness and desire to win at the game of life always leads them repeating the same mistakes and following the same patterns. Since guilt doesn’t touch them, they can’t mature. Sociopaths are wild creatures who only focus satisfying their base appetites and urges. In their inner lives, their absence of shame, guilt, remorse makes them dangerous individuals whether they’re violent or not. One red flag to watch for is a sociopath who tells you about morally questionable things they’ve done without a shred of guilt. A textbook example of a someone to watch out for would be a man who matter-of-factly tells you how he walked out on his family and devastated them. And he places all the blame on the spouse left behind. Because to a sociopath, anyone who has a problem with them is insane. While people who are guilty examine their own role in things and understand there are at least 2 sides, a sociopath can’t understand in emotional sense, how other people feel. Nor will they feel guilty about anything that happens. This chilling sense of “disconnect” from actions which hurt others (demonstrating a total lack of empathy) is a prime indicator of sociopathy. (This is a defining trait of Donald Trump who feels absolutely no guilt, shame, remorse, or sense of responsibility for his actions. Throughout his life, he’s done truly mindboggling and reprehensible shit that’s hurt hundreds of people over the decades such as family members he’s mistreated, employees he hasn’t paid, investors he’s swindled, and so many others. He never apologizes for any missteps or intemperate attacks and has demonstrated a remarkable lack of empathy for people he’s attacked, injured, or harmed. Nor has he taken any responsibility for all the bad stuff he’s save from settling a lawsuit to evade more serious charges. And due to his impulsiveness and desire to win, Trump has never learned from his mistakes nor cares to. As president, he’s been no different. As for talking about morally questionable things he’s done without a shred of guilt, well, check out his Access Hollywood interview with Billy Bush in which bragged about sexually assaulting women. The first part recounts how he failed to seduce Nancy O’Dell in which he said, “I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and fuck her. She was married. And I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, “I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.” I took her out furniture—I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.” Later referring to Arianne Zucker whom he and Bush were about to meet, he told the guy, “I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” As Americans, we must acknowledge that Trump’s unwillingness to own up to his mistakes makes him a very dangerous man in the White House.)

8. Shallow Emotions– Sociopaths do shocking and horrible acts whether leading double lives, stealing money from other’s savings account, or sabotaging others at the workplace may not be readily apparent or discovered for years. Part of the problem is that sociopaths don’t feel all emotions while the ones they do feel are fleeting. In their world, emotions don’t carry much weight save for anger and even that doesn’t last long. To illustrate this further let’s take a real ear and a cochlear implant. Now the human ear processes thousands of sounds with thousands of “channels.” Whereas a cochlear implant is only a synthetic version of an ear with only a fraction of a real ear’s channels. In regard to emotions, the sociopath is a cochlear implant while you’re (assuming you’re not a sociopath) are the real ear. Both may seem alike but they’re very different. A non-sociopath experiences emotional richness and depth. The sociopath doesn’t have it. For people to understand each other, they must be able to share one another’s emotional range. When they can’t the relationship is doomed in only a matter of time. While many sociopaths would like to feel what the rest of us feel instead of knowing they’re on the outside, most are quite happy to be sociopaths. So you shouldn’t pity them. Since they use pity to control other people and they don’t love those they control. Sociopaths don’t have the capacity for authentic love. Sure they might believe they’re in love in a romantic relationship, but their idea of love is mostly about lust, fleeting infatuation, and possessing and controlling another. That’s not love like other people feel it. (Other than anger {or possibly lust}, there are few emotions Donald Trump seems to display with any great intensity. He’s admitted that he doesn’t even cry. Nor has there ever been any evidence he’s ever been in love with anyone or even understands it himself. To say that Trump has an emotional shallowness similar Lord Voldemort isn’t much of a stretch. Nevertheless, since anyone can fake emotion to people who don’t even know them, only Trump and those closest to him know if he has any capacity for love. But I highly doubt this.)

9. Empathy-Free– Since sociopaths typically don’t even bother to put themselves in anyone’s shoes, they don’t experience a sense of humanity and oneness. Thy can’t feel sympathy for others or understand the emotional consequences of their actions. Though studies have shown they can turn empathy on and off, theirs is mostly in the default “Off” setting. Everyday con artists are all too happy to trick others into giving them things under false pretenses. Since they don’t emotionally understand how other people feel, they make false promises without feeling the pain of those they deceive. Sociopaths make lots of promises and these promises just don’t come through. Whether it’s a man who talks about marriage to his girlfriend but never manages to make it to the altar. Or a coworker who promises you credit on a big project then stabs you in a back. False promises are indicative of sociopathy. (Donald Trump’s record of false promises is absolutely staggering. He constantly makes promises often with no intention to follow through with them. As a businessman he’s hired people for his projects with no intention of paying them for their work. He’s promised to donate to charity countless times despite that he runs his Trump Foundation as a personal piggy bank with other people’s money. Then there are plenty of promises on the campaign trail he’s already broken, particularly when they pertain to healthcare, jobs, or draining the swamp. Then there’s the time when he mocked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for crying “fake tears” during his Muslim ban condemnation. Never mind that Schumer’s great-grandmother and seven of her children died during the Holocaust. A president who makes life-or-death decisions on a daily basis without comprehending the possibility of what another person might experience is a very scary thing. Trump has shown a profound lack of empathy on several occasions during his presidency, sometimes to mindboggling proportions. He has no sense of shame and spews rhetoric that’s often degrading, disingenuous, or sarcastic. He gains satisfaction from mocking people and thinks mercilessly degrading opponents makes him tough. He casually brags about forcing unwanted sexual contact on women. Sorry, Trump supporters, but your man doesn’t feel your pain or ever will.)

10. Trivial Sex Life– If you’re on a date, one thing to watch for is someone who stares at the opposite sex a lot while you’re out and about. If that person seems on the prowl, even when with a partner, they’re seeking sexual attention which is akin to narcissistic behavior. It’s called the predatory stare which is about inappropriate eye contact which can make you feel quite uncomfortable like you’re their next meal. Since sociopaths don’t have deep emotions, they may use sex to kill the boredom and in order to enjoy sensation. Combine this lack of depth with higher-than-average testosterone levels and vaulting egos, it’s no surprise that most sociopaths are promiscuous. And since they want higher and higher levels of sensation, they may become sexual deviants. This means cheating, using prostitutes, sleeping with people under the age of consent, sex tourism, and so on. Sex will be skillful yet not emotional. We should also note that promiscuity is such a common trait in sociopaths that it’s one of the factors psychiatrists look for when diagnosing the condition. (Tales of Donald Trump’s sexual exploits are the stuff of tabloid legend. He’s bragged about multiple infidelities and sexually assaulting women. Not to mention, he’s had plenty of sexual assault allegations against him, one pertaining to raping a 13-year-old girl. Oh, and let’s not forget the one about the prostitutes peeing on him at the Moscow Ritz Carlton presidential suite. Or how he liked to frequent beauty pageant contestants dressing rooms, especially if they consisted of teenage girls. Then there’s the infamous Billy Bush tape where he said “grab em’ by the pussy.”)

11. Conduct Problems Prior to Age 15– Sociopathy starts young and manifests in one way or another before age 15. Teens might be diagnosed with Conduct Disorder. Others may have no formal diagnosis, but they may have trouble following rules at school and home. They may show general disrespect for the truth, parents, siblings, and authority figures. Quite often, but not always, a juvenile delinquent is a budding sociopath. Some young sociopaths hurt animals and don’t understand why it’s wrong until they’re told. Others are violent with people. All will be rule-breakers and most will experiment alcohol and drugs, along with sexual contact long before their peers. To find an adult sociopath who wasn’t a problem child is rare. (Donald Trump has bragged about punching his music teacher in the face when he was in 2nd grade and almost got expelled over it. As he “wrote” in The Art of the Deal, “In the second grade…I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music….I’m not proud of that, but it’s clear evidence that even early on I had a tendency to stand up and make my opinions known in a very forceful way.” Of course, there’s no evidence he did this since people who knew him denied the story. Childhood friends and teachers describe the young Trump falling into a crowd of boys “who pulled girls’ hair, passed notes, and talked out of turn.” In fact, he ended up in detention so often that his friends nicknamed the punishment, “D.T.” Steve Nachtigall said he once saw Trump and his friends jump off their bikes and beat up another boy. He told the Washington Post, “It’s kind of like a little video snippet that remains in my brain because I think it was so unusual and terrifying at that age.” Furthermore, his father sent him to the New York Military Academy when he was 13 to straighten him out and keep him out of the trouble he liked to get into as a boy.)

12. Sadism and Mind Games– People with empathy don’t enjoy hurting others while a sociopath does. Even those they legitimately enjoy spending time with will be subject to sadism and mind games. If you know someone who seems to enjoy hurting you like a cat with a toy mouse and you find the mind games monotonous and repetitive, it might be time to cut them off from your life if you can. Sociopaths enjoy degrading, humiliating, dominating, damaging and belittling others. (Donald Trump seems to have a certain bloodlust as long as he’s not the one getting beat up. He’s endorsed and condoned police brutality as well as denigrated football players for kneeling during the national anthem to peacefully protest it. He’s repeatedly given license to his base to inflict violence. In fact, during a presidential campaign, Trump stated that he’d pay the legal costs of a thug who attacked a black protestor. He seems to revel in producing representations of violence suggesting it as how to deal with the “fake news” media that hold him accountable for his actions and policies. His domestic policies have been designed not only to harm or kill but also to instill fear through intimidation or coercion in specific populations. Not to mention, despite calling himself pro-life, his policies emanate what Pope Francis has indicated, “an economy that kills.” Trump relishes using violence and warmongering brutality to inflict humiliation and pain on people. Then there are the mind games in which he inflicts on the populace he continuously gaslights with conspiracy theories on a regular basis whenever his team’s embroiled in scandal. All too often.)

13. Has Few Friends– Sociopaths tend to have few friends, at least not real ones anyway. As psychiatrist Ross Rosenberg noted, Sociopaths don’t want friends, unless they need them. Or all of their friends are superficially connected with them, friends by association.” We should also note that many sociopaths have many short-term marriages which might begin with them idealizing them before devaluing and ultimately discarding them for a newer and more interesting partner. Since they never truly bond with their spouses, walking away from a marriage or relationship is quite effortless. And they’ll blame the relationship’s failure on their ex. (Most of Donald Trump’s relationships appear transactional. Whenever any of his associates get into trouble, he will deny he even knew them.)

14. Shows Disregard for Societal Norms– Sociopaths break rules and laws because they don’t believe society’s rules apply to them. A run of them mill spoiled brat may eventually learn that everyone needs to follow rules to be a part of society. A sociopath never does. They do what they need to gain pleasure which remains about all that keeps them in line. Because for a sociopath, rules are for other people, not them. They may not be a problem for the law but they will seek loopholes to rise to positions of power or move to another area where their behavior is tolerated. (Donald Trump has shown this time and time again. He has skirted rules and norms whenever it’s convenient for him. He doesn’t pay his workers. He’s used his charity as a personal piggy bank with other people’s money. He’s profiting off his presidency which is a clear violation of the Emoluments Clause in the US Constitution. He’s never released his recent tax returns. As a businessman, he’s used money and attorneys to find loopholes to bail himself out of several lawsuits generated from the infamous Trump University scam. As we speak, there are investigations currently determining whether if Trump or his campaign made illegal deals with the Russian government regarding possible tampering in the 2016 campaign. Let’s just say, if Trump can get away with breaking the law or social norm, he’ll surely do so.)

15. Explosive Temper– When things don’t go the way a sociopath has planned, they react in explosive anger. Even if the ugly meltdown was over a minor sleight whether real or imaginary. Such anger stems from the fact the inner narcissist is seemingly out of control with their surroundings which doesn’t jive with their worldview. Sociopaths can get mean if they’re challenged or if someone gets in the way of their goal. With domestic violence, you’ll see verbal and physical aggression again and again. Outside of a relationship, they might have road rage or constantly get into arguments. They can turn mean but only if challenged or if someone gets in the way of their goals. A sociopath’s charm usually covers their anger tendencies. But when it’s off and targeted at you, then God help you. (Donald Trump’s explosive anger is legendary which erupts whenever things don’t go his own way as reflected on his Twitter feed. Even before his presidency, he’s been known for this. He’s sued or threatened to sue people for criticizing or challenging him. One instance has him beating up Donald Jr. in college for not wearing a suit for a baseball game. He’s exploded over people making jokes about him to ridiculous levels. The New York Times lists 382 people, places, and things Trump has insulted on Twitter.)

16. Has Major Problems with Criticism– Sociopaths are extremely hostile to criticism since they often desire approval from others and may even feel like they’re entitled to it. They exercise extreme hypersensitivity when they feel, slighted, criticized, or challenged. They can’t tolerate weakness being highlighted by anyone speaking to them in a manner implying they’re inferior. And many will attack anyone they feel committed such an infraction. Question their behavior and they will react with anger or rage. (Donald Trump can’t tolerate any form of criticism no matter how slight and he is vindictive in the extreme. He often calls negative media stories about him as “fake news.” His obvious animosity towards reporters who “fabricate” stories manifesting by his thirst for taunting them. He uses hit and run tweets to demean, embarrass, and attack all who criticize him but lacks courage to hold Q&A press conferences for fear of being challenged over his wild assertions. His staff is also afraid to criticize him. He likes to brag but usually blames his failures on others. Also, erupts in Twitter tantrums over people joking about him. Also, take note on how his cabinet seems to praise him during meetings. There’s also evidence that hasn’t been yet publicly disseminated is that Trump has misused New York City Police Department officers to retaliate against his perceived enemies in New York City and to harass and threaten his opponents’ personal safety. This is a man who doesn’t take criticism well, like at all.)

17. Induces Drama Fatigue– Sociopaths’ behavior is so strange and outrageous that you actually become desensitized to things that would otherwise deeply upset you. Essentially, your “baseline normal” begins shifting to accommodate their increasingly abnormal behavior. And that’s when they start causing the real damage. Then they will induce fear to gradually wear you down to accept their control through a cycle of emotional and possibly physical abuse. (Donald Trump has put the United States through his crazy antics since he began running for president. Whether drama fatigue has set in at this point, I’m not exactly sure. However, the Republican establishment’s “baseline normal” has significantly shifted to accommodate Trump’s increasingly abnormal behavior just to get what they want. And since they control all 3 branches of the federal government, the country has to live with it for the time being.)

18. Gaslighting- A sociopath may say or do things before blatantly denying those things ever took place. In essence, they reinvent history and blame you for “misinterpreting” them. Their gaslighting clouds your sense of reality that you soon doubt yourself. Thus, you become more vulnerable to their manipulation. (Donald Trump has been gaslighting America on a regular basis since 2015. He peddles conspiracy theories. He’s denied telling some of his own lies. Thankfully, he’s not always successful thanks to video cameras catching him in the act. But he has the right-wing media to convince his supporters to take him at his word.)

19. Polarized Reputation– Sociopaths love to turn people against each other, especially if it results in a fight over them. By turning you against people you might otherwise get along with, you start thinking in extremes. Once your thinking slips from gray to black and white, sociopaths are able to paint “enemies” as good guys and bad guys. This keeps their victims divided and distracted. Sociopaths don’t want people to like or get along with each other and will try to “divide and conquer.” (Donald Trump is very polarizing figure who never misses an opportunity to inflict his appalling racism, conspiracy theories, or inflammatory rhetoric to fuel hyper partisan political polarization. His attacks on the national anthem protests are a prime example of this. So, Democrats, even if reaching out to Trump voters gets you nowhere, you should probably make some concerted effort to do so as a way to resist him.)

20. Intentionally Provokes Reactions– Sociopaths intentionally provoke reactions in you and then blame you for reacting. Causing you to become “hysterical” or to act “crazy,” enables them to write you off as an unstable loon or worse. And they’ll do this by preying on people’s suspicions, insecurities and resentments. They’ll often play the victim after provoking you, shifting people’s focus on you, and away from their behavior. They will turn people against each other if it works in their behavior even if it means destroying families, friendships, relationships, marriages, and entire communities. A good example in this is Iago engineering brawls to ensure Cassio’s ruin and preying on Othello’s insecurities by alleging that his wife is cheating on him. Nevertheless, Shakespeare’s Othello is a perfect example of how sociopaths can bring out the absolute worst in the people around them and ruin their lives. Everything a sociopath touches will go to shit. (Donald Trump does this all the time whenever there’s a negative story about him in order to deflect or distract people from more serious matters. Hell, he became president through tapping into white people’s racial resentment and xenophobia. His tendency to provoke reactions from people is dividing the country and undermining American democracy as we speak. Like Iago, Trump’s provocations will only divide us further and eventually destroy us all.)

21. Parasitic Lifestyle– Sociopaths really can’t see the point of working hard for long hours and little pay. There are far easier ways for them to get things for free. Often they’ll see their romantic partners as their career option. As Dating a Sociopath notes, “He will give glib promises, of how he will repay you, how special you are. You are made to feel like he is doing you a huge favor. He tells lies, so that you think that he isn’t just some deadbeat loser. He will talk of business plans, or a great career, and that maybe he is just temporarily down on his luck. But he sells you a good, honest moralistic man, with great prospects (it is all a lie).” Cary Grant’s performance in Suspicion offers a perfect example of this. Sociopaths love getting anything for free. They see it as “winning” and it makes them feel good for 2 reasons. First, it shows how stupid people are (and therefore, how clever they are to fool them). Second, it enables them to have the very best in life, with very little stress, effort, responsibility, or commitment. By the way, all sociopaths do this even those who work. You can even include high functioning sociopaths like certain politicians who put in false claims for expenses and live off a great life at the taxpayers’ bill. (Despite claiming to be a successful businessman, Donald Trump has often sought plenty of government funds to build his projects for decades. Even when the money was certainly meant for someone else like small businesses in New York City after 9/11. He has profited from his own presidential campaign. As president, he’s all too happy to spend his weekends at his resorts profiting off his Secret Service protection on the taxpayers’ dime.)

22. Is Very Dramatic– Sociopaths are always dramatic. In fact, they love drama and are drawn to it like magnets. They tell big stories filled with manipulation and deceit. They appear as larger than life characters who are always charming with a story to tell. They love to be the center of attention. They don’t mind having dramas or whoever has to put up with them because they simply don’t care. You often find sociopaths either dramatically telling lies, manipulating, deceiving, being dramatic victims, or dramatically pleading that they’ll change. Whatever they do, they’ll always appear larger than life. And if there isn’t any drama, they will create some. (Donald Trump thrives on drama as anyone could see on the news or on his Twitter feed. He always has to peddle conspiracy theories pertaining to his critics and opponents.)

23. Immaturity– Sociopaths are typically immature since they can’t learn from their past, keep repeating the same mistakes. Thus, they are unable to grow up and act in a more mature way that has respect for other people. Sociopaths don’t care for the rights of others. But they may pretend to act responsible and caring if it gets them what they want. Like a bratty teen, sociopaths are demanding and very selfish. They only think about their own needs and think the entire world revolves around them. Thus, a sociopath will never put other people’s needs before their own. (Donald Trump acts incredibly immature and never learns from his mistakes. He always thinks the world revolves around him and will only act nice if it gives him what he wants. He may seem like he cares about his supporters or the United States. But though he may demand loyalty from those below him, don’t expect him to give it in return. Trump is a very selfish man who sees nothing wrong with abusing his power to get what he wants even if it means destroying people’s lives, undermining the democratic process, or emboldening white supremacists. And he is certainly abusing his presidential office to personally enrich himself.)

24. Has No Realistic Long-Term Goals– Sociopaths don’t make long term goals like everybody else since they’re so busy lying, cheating, manipulating, and scamming. Unless given an easy route to working, many think work is beneath them and treat it with contempt. Sociopaths who work can rarely hold down a job for too long as they don’t like routine or being told what to do. And often they lose their jobs or have a history of trouble in the workplace. It’s not that they don’t work hard, they do but only in scamming and cheating others for themselves. And because sociopaths are so consumed in the present drama, what’s going on the next few months doesn’t seem important. They’ll lie today and not think how it will affect them in the future. (Donald Trump doesn’t really plan ahead or think about the destructive long-term implications of his actions. As long as it gives him immediate gratification or benefit, that’s all that matters to him. He also detests being told what to do.)

25. Jealousy and Paranoia– Sociopaths are extremely jealous and paranoid. They’ll accuse you of things you haven’t done (that they often have done). And you’ll feel you often have to constantly defend yourself against false accusations. They also stalk their principal targets as well as suspect other people of being as manipulative, deceitful, and unscrupulous as themselves. They will check on their partners and keep track of where they are and who they’re with. If their significant other speaks to someone of the opposite sex, then the sociopath will ask several questions on how they know that person. If their victims don’t answer their calls, they’ll ask where they were, what they were doing, who they were talking to, etc. (Donald Trump has displayed some degree of paranoia and jealousy, especially towards Barack Obama. Trump sees Obama beneath him being the kind of racist he is {I mean he once alleged he wasn’t born in the US for years}. He can’t stand the idea that Obama is a far more loved and respected than he ever could be. So much so that he’ll try to destroy Obama’s presidential legacy out of spite. As for paranoia, well, he certainly thinks the mainstream media has it out for him.)

26. Always Blames Someone Else for Their Transgressions – Since they completely lack remorse, guilt, or shame and will never admit to their wrongdoings if caught. Instead, they will blame someone else for their actions or ignore their victims and their pain before moving on. They may experience a sociopathic, narcissistic meltdown which will make you see signs of insanity. But they will not care how you feel. Because a sociopath feels they’re never to blame, everything is someone else’s fault. (Donald Trump will always blame the news media for making up stories about him whenever they portray him in a negative light. He’ll blame Republicans for failing to pass policy that he endorsed. He’ll blame Democrats for conspiring against him. He’ll even blame his victims for getting into their terrible situations in the first place. But he’ll never own up to his mistakes or take responsibility for his actions.)

27. Unpredictability– Sociopaths can seem to change their entire personality depending on the situation. In fact, they may like a lot of change in their atmosphere which might include changing team members, jobs, opinions and relationships. They can dramatically shift from friendly neighbor to cold, dispassionate stranger. Sociopaths can alter who they seemingly are to get what they apparently want given on how well they believe that specific mask will benefit them at the time. (Donald Trump often adapts the kind of personality that will most help him at some moments, particularly when he’s on his best behavior with dignitaries.)

28. Public Contempt for Social Inferiors– A sociopath views everyone beneath them. But there are some people who they view as more inferior than others. In fact, a sociopath might see these people as so beneath them that they don’t even bother to hide their true selves to them. Normally, these public targets are poor people, ethnic minorities, those in the LGBT community, or people with disabilities, many of whom the rest of society doesn’t think much of. And if it helps him, he’ll use that bigotry to tap into people’s resentment and get what he wants. A good example of this would be a seemingly charming and likeable guy you meet at a restaurant for a date. He may seem nice talking to you. But if he epically flips out at the waiter for whatever reason, then that’s a clear red flag he’s not a good guy. Yet, since you’re receptive to his superficial charm, you might just ignore it. After all, you really like the guy who seems to have a lot in common with you. And perhaps maybe that waiter didn’t give you adequate service. Sure he might be all charm to sweep you off your feet. But if he treats that waiter like garbage, chances are he will treat you like shit somewhere down the line, too. And maybe worse. Besides, if he’s willing to inflict harm on marginalized groups, chances are he’ll put you through hell, too. (Donald Trump often talks crap on undocumented immigrants, Muslims, blacks, and other groups of people he doesn’t like. His supporters love it since his hateful screeds seem to resonate with them, while tapping into the vast reservoir of white racial resentment won him the White House. However, it’s very clear that he doesn’t think much of his supporters’ real needs and will only appeal to his base with racist screeds so he could exploit their anger and bigotry. Yet, he’ll support plutocratic policies that the GOP establishment and their donors want because that’s who’s giving him money.)

29. Isn’t Nice to the Waiter– You can tell a lot about how a person will behave in the future by how they treat others who aren’t immediately useful to them. Those who are uncaring and unethical to others will most likely also be that way to you when you no longer serve their interests. In a romantic relationship during the dating phase, the sociopath will treat a waitstaff or any other neutral person of the opposite sex the way they’ll treat you in the next 6 months. They may treat you like a prize in the honeymoon phase. But even during that time, the sociopath hasn’t forgotten how they feel actually feel about the opposite sex. They will treat waitstaff, clerks, and other neutral individuals badly. If they’re cheap, you’ll never receive anything once the honeymoon’s over. If they whine, complain, criticize, and torment, they’ll do the same to you come 6 months later. They lack consistency in their “good” behavior because for them “goodness” is only a façade. How they treat people has strictly to do with that person’s perceived use value. When people are useful to the sociopath, they will treat them (superficially) well. When they aren’t, they ignore and mistreat them. (Donald Trump is only nice to people who are useful to him and can give them what he wants. When he feels their association doesn’t benefit him, he will drop them with a drop of a hat. In fact, he will distance himself from them, pretending they weren’t very significant or denying that he knew them at all.)

30. Shows a Pattern of Misbehavior– Though we may all have road rage or fantasize about being a famous movie star or inventor, that will only happen to us once in awhile. With a sociopath, these things happen over and over again. Sociopathy is a personality disorder that manifests at work, school, with friends, while they’re young, during adolescence, and in adulthood. Unless you observe that jerk at the office in all aspects of their lives, it’s impossible to see if their attitude just might be an ill temper at work or signs of a darker issue. Sociopaths may learn how to adapt but they can never change and see no reason to. (Though since Donald Trump is a public figure, we can observe him in all aspects of work. And whenever he’s in a position of authority, he’s consistently abused his power whether he’s head of the Trump Organization or in the White House. Just look at his articles the media has written about him. You’ll find he’s basically the same person now as he was then.)

31. Plays the Victim– Sociopaths are experts at manipulating emotions and insecurities into causing you to view them as the victim. This helps lowers your guard and makes you vulnerable to future exploitation. Because when we feel sorry for someone, we can easily excuse their transgressions. Sociopaths use this manipulation tactic precisely for this reason since it lets them off the hook for egregious behavior they’ve engaged in for selfish reasons. If a person’s victim mentality is continually combined with unacceptable and evil actions, you should be wary of their real nature. Think Eric Cartman in South Park. (Donald Trump does this all the time to his supporters whenever the media reports anything negative about him. He will often try to discredit them as “fake news” who work for the liberal agenda. Even though reporting negative stuff about him just happens to be part of the mainstream media’s freaking job.)

32. Is All Take and No Give– Sociopaths are selfish people who seek constant attention and adoration, even from total strangers. If you’re in a relationship with a sociopath, your wants and desires will take a backseat, particularly after the honeymoon’s over. Your basic boundaries will not be respected. But there will be absolutely no tolerance for the reverse. Partners of sociopaths often find that when they engage in normal inquiries regarding their absence or requests to discontinue their rudeness and aggression in which the sociopath lashes out. And since they have very little tolerance for a secondary position, sociopaths will tread boundaries in most of their relationships, including professional ones. They may refer to their doctor or attorney by their first name because they want to remove any possible power differential they feel between themselves and others. (Donald Trump is a phenomenally selfish individual who has no respect for people’s needs or constitutional rights. But at the same time, he’s very secretive about his finances, particularly his tax returns. Then there’s the fact he holds rallies and has to have people shower him with praise.)

33. Exhibits Poor Self-Control– Since they live in the present, sociopaths can’t easily refrain from acting on an urge. They can’t contain their anger if provoked. They can’t resist temptation even if it pertains to skipping an immediate reward for a larger one later. They may act threatened, annoyed, and angry in normal encounters or everyday situations. And they exhibit difficulties controlling their own emotions which can lead to mood swings or irrational behavior. With a sociopath, you’ll often see irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, verbal abuse, inadequate anger and temper control, and acting hastily. (Nothing shows Donald Trump’s poor self-control like his response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville or his inflammatory Twitter rants.)

34. Has a Strange Network of Enablers– Though a sociopath may not have many real friends, they do have allies who vouch for them. These can range from “consultants,” to skilled workers, to enabling co-dependents who back them up whenever they want to go after their targets. Many of the support people may have their own share of psychological problems, ulterior motives, or just like what the sociopath says. But all will be sycophants in one way or another while some may even be sociopaths themselves. (Though unpopular, Donald Trump has plenty of people who support him that they will swear by every word he says and excuse every horrible thing he does. This includes the Republican Party establishment, conservative media, and nearly a third of American voters, especially if they’re white. Not to mention, many of his close associates are also horrible people while some of his most ardent supporters are white nationalists willing to commit violent acts in his name.)

35. Flagrant Hypocrisy– Sociopaths have extremely high expectations for fidelity, respect, and adoration. But once they win you over, they will give none of this back to you. They will lie, cheat, insult, and degrade you. But you will have to remain perfect despite all the shit they make you put up with. (Donald Trump will expect people to be absolutely loyal to him under all circumstances. But once someone is no longer useful to him or gets into some kind of trouble, he’ll stab them in the back with a drop of a hat. Oh, and despite seeing no qualms to his associates using private e-mail servers for their jobs, he absolutely crucified Hillary Clinton over her e-mail habits in 2016.)

36. Sadistic Sense of Humor– Sociopaths find humor in things most people find unlawful or disgusting. While it might not seem strange at first, it evolves over time and becomes creepy or disgusting. (I’m not sure if Donald Trump has a sense of humor. But he seems to take a casual attitude toward sexual assault and nuclear annihilation. Then there is how he talks about Ivanka which is just absolutely creepy.)

37. Has an Inflated Sense of Entitlement– Sociopaths feel entitled to act the way they do. If someone slights them, they feel they have a right to retaliate. If someone fails them or if anyone says anything bad about them, they feel entitled to revenge. Or if they do something nice for you, they feel entitled to a reward. And if you don’t give them what they want, they’re entitled to punish you. Laws, ethics, and other people’s feelings don’t matter to them. Furthermore, winning is extremely important to sociopaths and typically don’t accept being in a lesser situation, regardless of how small the situation. (Donald Trump feels entitled to act the way he does. And he’ll often retaliate if someone doesn’t do what he wants or says anything terrible about him. Even if it’s just the news media trying to do their job. If he sees anyone not lavishing him with praises, he’ll certainly lash out at them. Also, he really hates to lose.)

38. Isolates Willing Victims– In nature predators isolate their prey from the rest of the herd to better attack and devour it. And that’s what sociopaths do to their targets. They isolate their partners from their friends, colleagues, and families. Sometimes it might be through overt criticism or following them around when they meet with others. Sometimes it could be through more subtle manipulation such as by covertly turning the victim against their own family and friends (and vice versa). Because sociopaths feels that their partner’s support system might influence them or offer negative opinions about their behavior. Eventually rather than face verbal punishment, interrogation, and abuse, the victim will develop the feeling that it’s better not to talk to family and friends and will withdraw from them. Yet, they also not only just isolate their partners from other people, but also narrow the range of their interests and activities. This leads their significant others to focus exclusively on them. They may give their partners money and gifts, not out of real generosity but to keep them financially and emotionally dependent on them. They may discourage their partner from working outside the home or possibly follow them everywhere to see if they’re seeing anyone of the opposite sex. This puts their partners on edge about any kind of activity or pursuit external to their relationship. (Donald Trump has done this from his supporters in regards to the mainstream media which he calls “fake news” since they report negative stories about him. Yet, he’s also broken up families, friendships, and the like.)

39. Massive Control Freak– Sociopaths need to maintain control of everything in their lives, particularly in romantic relationships. When they get bored with one partner or find a replacement, they will leave them on the spur of the moment, heartlessly and often without bothering an explanation. But they get very angry when the tables are turned and their partners leave them. Sociopaths will put down their partners not only in private, but also in public to embarrass and isolate them. Sociopaths can’t tolerate any real assertion of independence from others. They are so self-involved and self-worshipping that they think their own beliefs and opinions are absolute authority and consider others’ feelings and opinions as worthless. In the workplace, the sociopathic boss will be the tyrant who’s surrounded by sycophants and makes their employees’ lives hell. (Like anyone with authoritarian tendencies, Donald Trump is a massive control freak who has to maintain control in everything in his life, especially when it comes to his businesses and public image. Trump has attacked even fellow Republicans who speak out against him. Using dominance or intimidation to control others shows up time and time again in Trump’s history. He’s attempted to silence not just the media, but also protestors at his rallies where he’s implied support for violent retaliation and publicly suggested he’d pay legal fees for one assault subject.)

40. Has a Very Shady History– It’s said that the best indicator to predict future behavior is past behavior. There may be exceptions to this general principle since some people can improve their behavior and character with genuine and consistent effort. However, a sociopath can never be one of these people. If a man cheated on every wife he’s been with, it’s very likely he’ll cheat on the next one. Obviously the problem isn’t any of the women he’s with, but his underlying lack of character. Similarly if he’s abused previous partners, he’s very likely to abuse the next one as well. Not to mention, since sociopaths don’t see anything wrong with their harmful behavior, they’re likely to boast about it. They may tell stories of violence, aggression, being insensitive to others, rejecting others, etc… They may brag about their temper and outbursts because they don’t see anything wrong with violence and actually take pride in the “I didn’t take nothing from nobody” attitude. Best to listen to these stories since they tell you how you’ll eventually be treated and what’s coming your way. (Donald Trump’s past contains a decades long history of mindboggling corruption and abuse of power. If he abused his power to enrich himself as a businessman, then nobody should be surprised how he’s abusing his power as president. Look at his history on my blog and you’ll find unbelievable tales of corruption the world has never seen before. Believe me, did a whole post of it during the 2016 campaign. The epic tales of deceit are absolutely staggering. Trump writes off the media as “fake news” for reporting negative stories about him {which are very important to know about}, not because the media has it in for him {though I wouldn’t blame them if they did}. But because the media’s covered him for decades and knows exactly who he is. So, whenever the mainstream media reports a story casting Trump in a negative light, believe the media. For the love of God, believe them for at least they have a better track record at telling the truth than Donald Trump.)

41. Jekyll and Hyde Personality– Sociopaths are often described as two-faced. The Jekyll side is a mask they use to attract, fool, and use others. The Hyde side represents their true identity which becomes increasingly dominant over time. To buddies, a sociopath may appear easy-going, nice person. But that’s because the buddies only see one side of them, the jovial side the sociopath wanted them to see. To spouses and families or rather anyone who’s had intimate contact with them, the sociopath exposes another, much more menacing side of their personality. They may be occasionally nice to keep their partners from straying, but they will revert back to their mean, nasty selves in only a matter of time. And over time, that meanness will escalate in severity and duration while the “nice” moments become increasingly few. (When Donald Trump acts presidential, it’s just a mask and it won’t stay on for long. Because he’s a very volatile man who cares for nobody but himself and lashes out whenever he doesn’t get his way.)

42. Secretiveness– Sociopaths reveal little about themselves though they talk incessantly about various subjects. Their partners aren’t likely to meet someone important in their past or witness the sociopath’s family members visit or interact with them in any meaningful way. Some sociopaths conceal a significant portion of their lives for fear they may expose their dark past. They don’t like exposure and usually ask their lovers not to share too much about them. (Though he brands himself as incredibly rich, Donald Trump keeps his true wealth secret such as his tax returns he still hasn’t released. However, as a public figure, his past is very well known thanks to the media reporting on him for decades. Not to mention, Trump’s White House has been notoriously less transparent than previous administrations. When the facts make him look bad, Trump absolutely hates transparency and tries to discredit the media like some asshole boyfriend attempting pass his ex-girlfriend as a crazy bitch.)

43. Has a History of Financial or Occupational Instability– Sociopaths often can’t keep jobs or uphold financial commitments. Their sense of entitlement leads them to dismiss work rules like arriving on time, staying awake, or not stealing. Moreover, the reason for their termination includes insubordination since they have no respect for people with control over them, including bosses. (Donald Trump may not have occupational instability due to being born into wealth with connections. But many of the financial records we do know about don’t give us a good impression on his money managing abilities. Besides, he’s experienced bankruptcy 4 freaking times as well as multiple business failures over the years. Not to mention, his reputation for failing to repay debts was so notorious that Wall Street banks stopped lending money to him. He may brand himself as a successful businessman, but his personal and business suggests he’s a complete fraud.)

44. Lacks Basic Social Skills Despite Charm– A most jarring and easily noticeable sign of a sociopath’s behavior is a lack of basic conduct rules. Sure they may be quite social. But their lack of empty they don’t understand how to treat other people with the basics of human kindness, fairness, and respect. (Donald Trump’s conduct to Gold Star families and hurricane victims in Puerto Rico certainly illustrate how he can’t even comfort people who’ve experienced terrible tragedy.)

45. The Predatory Stare– Sociopaths have no problem maintaining uninterrupted eye contact. Failure to politely look away could be perceived as being seductive or aggressive, which can make a non-sociopath uncomfortable. There is some evidence that people experience unnerving physical sensations when present with a sociopath. They can come up close as they focus their gaze onto you. Their body language can give little space for breath. Sometimes a sociopath can look at you like you’re their next lunch. This stare may seem flattering at first but later can feel suffocating. (Donald Trump’s dinner with James Comey is a perfect example of this. Comey testified he didn’t feel comfortable alone with the guy. This coming from a man who’s 6’8.” Also note how he was standing over Hillary Clinton during the town hall debate during the 2016 campaign. When you see him, he appears to have some crazed look in eyes like a monster.)

46. Stays Eerily Calm in Spite of Circumstances– Sociopaths don’t register events the same way as non-sociopaths and may barely react in dangerous and scary situations. And they can experience highly emotional events without feeling any emotion. Studies show that sociopaths don’t demonstrate anxiety when shown images that would disturb others or when expecting to receive small electrical shocks. Meanwhile, non-sociopaths certainly register fear and anxiety in these situations. (Donald Trump doesn’t seem very anxious when it comes to scary hurricanes, white supremacist violence, and a nuclear war with North Korea.)

47. Engages in Risky Behavior at Theirs or Others’ Expense– Sociopaths engage in dangerous, risky, and self-damaging activities, unnecessarily and without regard to the consequences. They’re prone to boredom and thoughtlessly initiate activities in order to counter it. And they lack concern for their limitations and deny the reality of personal danger. (Running and becoming president aside, Donald Trump has made risky business moves for decades which resulted in so many disasters, which characterize his risk-taking abilities quite well. He could burn everything to the ground and won’t care who has to be burned in the process.)

48. Displays Authoritarian Tendencies– Sociopaths see themselves as a necessary authority and are in favor of totalitarian rule. Put them in a leadership position and they will run their charge like tyrant. They will abuse their power to their personal ends and at their underlings’ expense. They will promote sycophants to high power positions. And they will go to great lengths to quench anyone who’d hold them accountable. It’s little wonder that many of the world’s authoritarian dictators display sociopathic tendencies. (Donald Trump has difficulty getting along with senior advisers and is swift to fire those who don’t agree with him. He often makes egotistical comments such as boasting how he knows more about ISIS than the generals. He uses intimidation and fearmongering tactics to verbally attack federal judges, the FBI, the CIA, and US generals. He feels a menacing sense of confidence thinking he can alienate government experts and run the country primarily on family members’ advice. He daily attacks the media for reporting stories he doesn’t like and even threatened to deny NBC News a broadcasting license. In September, he took on the NFL in an attempt to suppress the players’ constitutional right to free speech. These are the actions of dictators, not presidents.)

49. Impulsivity– Because they lack regret and empathy, sociopaths act on the spur of the moment in response to immediate stimuli and on a momentary basis without a plan or consideration of outcomes. They have difficulty establishing and following plans. And they don’t think things through. (Donald Trump delivers immediate vicious attacks on those who criticize him. He often undermines high-level specialists by speaking without knowing the facts. And he’s shared juvenile anti-media cartoons on Twitter exhibiting an impulsive nature unbefitting of a president.)

50. Cold-Calculating Manipulation– Sociopaths have the ability and willingness to use others around them for personal gain. They will frequently use subterfuge to influence and control others through seduction, charm, glibness, or ingratiation to achieve their own ends. (Donald Trump has hundreds of lawsuits against him met with his high-priced battery of attorneys that leaves little chance for plaintiffs to prevail. In the 2016 campaign, he likely relied on his personnel to surreptitiously deal with Russian operatives. He will say or do anything to retain support of his base and generally uses Twitter to chastise and divide, rarely posting uplifting words save when praising himself.)

The Fall of the Low Hanging Fruit

On Monday, October 30, 2017, Donald Trump’s former presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates were indicted as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The two men face a total of 12 charges mostly focused on alleged money laundering, failure to disclose financial assets, and false statements regarding their work for the Ukrainian government and a Ukrainian political party. Particularly, it’s about how Manafort and Gates hid their lobbying work for the pro-Russian Ukrainian political party and used elaborate schemes to funnel more than $75 million through offshore accounts to conceal their activities and avoid paying taxes on the proceeds. Manafort’s history of pro-Russian consulting work and experience with international skullduggery make him a prime suspect for potential collusion. But the indictment actually doesn’t have anything to do with possible Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and whether Trump associates played any role in it. Instead, it’s almost entirely related to Manafort’s work for foreign interests predating the 2016 campaign which were already under FBI investigation. For months Mueller seemed to have zeroing in on Manafort. In July, the FBI raided his house for documents and there was a report he’d been wiretapped. Emails then revealed he tried to set up private briefings for a Russian billionaire while Trump’s campaign chair. It’s long been speculated that if Mueller’s team finds damaging evidence, they’re reportedly hoping they can use charges to get Manafort to give them more information on the collusion matter. In other words, they want to flip him against Trump, other Trump associates, or potentially Russians.

Paul Manafort has had a decades long career as a Republican operative and lobbyist who’s worked on several GOP presidential campaigns and representing several controversial dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He’s also been a longtime business partner of Roger Stone, with whom he founded a famous lobbying firm. In the mid-2000s, Manafort began focusing on business activities in Eastern Europe. Initially, he mostly advised oligarchs such as Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska and Ukrainian steel magnate Rinat Akhmetov. In 2005, he advised the Ukrainian pro-Russian Party of Regions led by Viktor Yanukovych. After Yanukovych lost a presidential election, Manafort’s team helped them formulate a comeback strategy. In 2010, Yanukovych won Ukraine’s presidency. Manafort had other dealings with wealthy people in Ukraine as well. In one instance, he tried to develop a luxury apartment with energy oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who was later charged with money laundering and bribery. Yet, these business ventures fall apart in 2014. Protests and clashes with pro-Russian policies forced President Yanukovych to flee Ukraine. Meanwhile, Manafort had a large falling out with Deripaska who claimed he cheated him out of millions in a lawsuit.
So why would Donald Trump appoint an operative who’s done so much pro-Putin work as his campaign chair? Well, consider the situation in March 2016. Back then, despite Trump winning several flashy victories in early primary elections. But Ted Cruz proved adept at locking down delegates even in states Trump won. Since delegates technically determine the nominee, Trump became convinced he needed an expert who understood the byzantine party rules actually governing delegate selection and the convention, else he could lose. Since Manafort had helped Gerald Ford lock down delegates in 1976 and managed Bob Dole’s convention 20 years later, he fit the bill. Even better, Manafort was also the former business partner of longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone. Though Stone had been pushed out of the Trump campaign some time ago, he kept informally advising Trump and to intrigue against campaign manager Corey Lewandowski whom he loathed. At first, Manafort’s job was merely leading a delegate wrangling operation. But when Lewandowski became enmeshed in scandal over grabbing Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields at a campaign event, his portfolio gradually expanded until he was effectively running the campaign. In May 2016, he was officially made campaign chair and chief strategist while Lewandowski was fired. Manafort would remain in charge through the last through GOP primary elections and the Republican National Convention. By mid-August Trump had sunk in the polls while damaging news reports about foreign worked dogged Manafort. Thus, Trump brought in Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to take over while Manafort had to resign. Of course, the Trump administration has recently attempted to distance itself from the former campaign chairman with then Press Secretary Sean Spicer claiming, he “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.” However, it widely understood that Manafort was a linchpin in the Trump campaign. As New Gingrich told Fox News in August 2016, “Nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help get this [Trump] campaign to where it is right now.”

Paul Manafort’s time with the Trump campaign may have lasted less than 5 months but it was an eventful and crucial period for Trump/Russian activity. For one, the Trump campaign transitioned from the primary to the general election in which finding a way to defeat Hillary Clinton would be top priority. Second, there’s the e-mail exchange between Donald Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone who offered to set up a meeting in which he’d receive incriminating information on Clinton “as part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. forwarded the e-mail thread about the meeting to Manafort and Jared Kushner and invited them to it. That meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and potential spy Rinat Akhmetshin took place on June 9, 2016 with Manafort and Kushner in attendance. Though the parties involved claimed the meeting lead nowhere, NBC News states that Manafort’s notes on the meeting included a reference to donations, “near a reference to the Republican National Convention” though the full context remains unclear. In July, Manafort oversaw the Republican National Convention. But as the Republicans assembled their platform some controversy spilled over whether Trump staffers pushed to dilute an aggressive anti-Russian amendment calling for arming Ukraine. The controversy seems somewhat exaggerated and there hasn’t been any indication that Manafort was personally involved. The existing platform wasn’t changed but a Ted Cruz supporter’s proposed amendment was modified before being added to it. Later in that same month, Wikileaks posted hundreds of hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee. The dumps showed certain DNC staffers saying unfriendly things about Bernie Sanders were perfectly timed to cause chaos at the Democratic National Convention the following week. US intelligence later claimed the Russian government orchestrated the DNC hack.
Nevertheless, Mueller’s indictment of Manafort was a long time coming. Even before the indictment, Manafort was already seen as astonishingly corrupt with longstanding interests in tilting the Trump campaign’s platform in a pro-Russian stance. The gist of the 12 charges against him and Gates is that they “acted as unregistered agents” of the Ukrainian government and politicians, generating “tens of millions of dollars in income” which they then “laundered” through “score of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts.” In other words, taking a bunch of illegal Ukrainian money and actively lying about it to the federal government which is a criminal offense. On former front, Manafort and Gates are both charged with a “conspiracy to launder money” and separate specific charges on failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts. Together to hide their Ukrainian work, both men laundered their Ukrainian payments through a complex network of companies and bank accounts they set up in both the United States and abroad which included tax havens in Cyprus, Saint Vincent and the Grendines, and Seychelles. More than $75 million is said to flow through their offshore bank accounts. The indictment then reads: “Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income.” It then alleges that Manafort laundered over $18 million through offshore accounts, making various payments to businesses including a home improvement company, a men’s clothing store, a landscaper, and an antique rug store. In 2012, he’s said to buy a Manhattan condo for $2.85 million he rented out using Airbnb to generate cash.

Thus, it’s obvious that Mueller wants to know whether there was any follow-up to the meeting Trump Jr. set up (despite Trump Jr. claiming there wasn’t). And whether Manafort had any knowledge about the email hackings which he’s denied. There are also questions about Manafort’s emails with his Ukrainian business associate Konstantin Kilimnik about his old client Oleg Deripaska. On July 7, 2016, he e-mailed Kilimnik about the Russian aluminum oligarch saying, “If he needs private briefings we can accommodate” according to the Washington Post. Kilimnik wrote back a few weeks later, seemingly cryptically about Deripaska, claiming he met the guy in person “who gave you the biggest black caviar jar several years ago” and that it would take time to explain this “long caviar story.” He and Manafort then set up a meeting in New York that took place a few days later. By the way, he did this while chairing Trump’s campaign. And even though his Ukrainian baggage forced him to leave the Trump campaign, Manafort was known to be in contact with Trump. Mostly because investigators had been surveilling him thanks to a secret court order since September 2016.

As Mueller’s main goal is to investigate potential collusion between Trump associates and Russia, he can see charges against Manafort as a means to an end. The stronger the evidence the special counsel has against the former Trump campaign manager, the more pressure he can exert to get him to cooperate in the collusion probe. But the charges are serious enough to warrant prison time that Manafort and Gates turned themselves in to the FBI to face those charges. Thus, the men turned themselves in. Then there’s the foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos who’s plead guilty of lying to the FBI about his conversations with a Joseph Mifsud, a professor with close ties to the Russian government who told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails.” Such disclosure confirms at least one Trump campaign adviser knew of Kremlin efforts to help Trump win the White House and was open to accepting that assistance. But whether Papadopoulos shared that information with others within the Trump campaign remains a mystery. Yet, Mueller’s team has said in a court filing that Papadopoulos “has indicated that he is willing to cooperate with the government in its ongoing investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.” This begs the question what kinds of information Papadopoulos has already provided to Mueller’s team. Did he wear a wire? Did he try to help the special prosecutor gather information on other Trump associates? Are other Trump team members quietly working with Mueller? Nonetheless, Mueller’s moves increase the likelihood that campaign advisers or administration staffers finding themselves in his crosshairs might want to strike plea bargains in which they trade damaging information on Trump in exchange for lesser charges. This who don’t cut a deal will be prosecuted.

Though the investigation into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia has simmered for months, it’s wasn’t clear if, or when, it would move from a political scandal to a legal one. Thanks to Mueller’s indictments on Manafort and Gates, it has. Now the question is how far Trump will go to protect himself from an investigation that threatens the future of his presidency. And whether the Congress and the courts will be up for the challenge. The time may come when Donald Trump decides he has no choice but try to protect himself by firing Mueller or issuing preemptive pardons to Manafort or others ensnared in the investigation. Either move can trigger a legal and political crisis in Watergate level proportions such as breaking decades of if not centuries of precedent for how American presidents treat the criminal justice system. Federal courts may have to decide whether to overturn any Trump pardons. Republicans could face a moment of truth about their willingness to actually stand up to Trump instead of publicly bashing him. Though a handful of GOP lawmakers have introduced legislation designed to protect Mueller from Trump firing him with bipartisan support. But such legislation has gone nowhere. So far, Robert Mueller has the upper hand but that could very literally change at a moment depending on what Trump does next. The US political and legal systems did their jobs during Watergate. But it’s profoundly depressing to ask whether they’ll do their jobs during the Trump presidency. It’s even more heart wrenching they might not.

So far the Republican Party has done nothing. Earlier in October, House Speaker Paul Ryan reputedly joked at the Al Smith Dinner, “Every morning I wake up in my office and I scroll through Twitter to see which tweets I will have to pretend I didn’t see later on.” Later, when a Wisconsin radio station asked his opinion on the Mueller indictments, he said, “I really don’t have anything to add other than nothing is going to derail what we’re doing in Congress.” There was nothing on his website even addressing the indictments. But there was a post summing up a busy month cheekily titled, “Not Another Tax Reform Post” and included photos of Ryan signing bills, handing out medals, and meeting interns. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t even make himself available enough to dodge any questions. The top story on his website that time was “McConnell on IRS Targeting During Obama Administration.” There is no mention of Mueller whatsoever. Had Hillary Clinton been in this situation you’d bet Ryan and McConnell would be all over it. Instead, they’re mounting a defense of Congress’s priorities in the face of Trump and the media’s distractions. Yet, these near-daily acts of silence and cowardice abdicate Congress’s role to contain a clearly rogue, lawless, and undisciplined White House. The Founding Fathers could see Americans electing a demagogue to the White House to the White House despite that their mistrust of the popular will and Electoral College system enabled just that. But instead of ambition counteracting ambition as they intended, it’s ambition enabling ambition which wasn’t what the Founding Fathers had foreseen. Today, Ryan and McConnell’s ambition to pass tax cuts for the rich and hold the Republican base is enabling Trump’s ambition to act without proper sanction or oversight. Congress has plenty of power to check Trump, but its leaders are too nervous to use it, or even signal that they might use it in the future.

Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell could’ve said or done so much to protect both the process and the country. They could’ve remarked how troubling Mueller’s indictments are for anyone caring about the sanctity of elections. They could’ve assured that Mueller had their full support for the investigation to run its course as well as endorse one of the bipartisan bills to safeguard his job. Even if it just in the name of self-preservation. Because Donald Trump firing Mueller will ignite a major political crisis that will be far more of a distraction from tax reform. But the GOP has come to bind and blind so effectively that congressional Republicans have lost sight that they, too, have an interest in the political system’s fundamental stability and indicating what behavior will or will not be acceptable from the president. And it’s not Ryan and McConnell who could act to safeguard Mueller’s investigation in advance. Senators John McCain, Bob Corker, and Jeff Flake have all decried Donald Trump as a threat in apocalyptic terms. They can join the Democrats to create a 51-vote majority blocking action on any bills until the protective legislation Republican Senator Tom Tillis introduced was passed. But so far, they too, have done nothing of the kind.

The Trump era is an extraordinary time in American politics that’s a test not just to our institutions but also our leaders. Republicans are failing that test. It’s well known they’re more despairing than liberals in the back rooms and background briefings. They know that Donald Trump is a dangerous and impulsive man in the White House. Those who take their conservatism seriously and believe the best for their party keenly feel the consequences of Trump’s behavior. But because they’re so afraid of his wrath, confused by their base, and somewhat hopeful that something good can arise from this crisis, they regularly talk themselves into small acts of cowardice and silence. Yet, these small acts lead to committing larger ones when the party is too invested and too culpable to change. Now like hungry gamblers deep in a losing streak, they need to win something to justify all they’ve done and excused. But like all hungry gamblers, more likely than not, they’ll just keep losing while making everything worse for themselves and the American people. For the sake of the country, Republicans need to start taking Trump as a serious threat now.

Deliberate Sabotage

Since taking office, the Trump administration has already taken aim to sabotage the Obamacare marketplaces. First, they cut the Obamacare enrollment period from 90 days to 45. Second, they’ve cut the Obamacare advertising budget by 90% and reduced funding for in-person outreach by 40%. Nevertheless, this has caused Health and Human Services regional branches abruptly pulled out of outreach events they’ve participated in over the last 4 years. Third, they’ve shut down the Healthcare.gov website for maintenance. And finally, Trump has repeatedly threatened to end subsidies to insurance companies who cover the poor. Since Republicans have spent 7 years promising to repeal Obamacare, the healthcare law has become a political football. Recently Donald Trump has signed two executive orders sabotaging the Affordable Care Act. Both these executive orders could undermine President Obama’s signature domestic achievement sending insurance premiums skyrocketing and insurance companies fleeing from the ACA’s online marketplaces.

First, he ordered the government to allow associations of small employers or other membership groups band together and offer their own insurance that wouldn’t have to provide all the essential health benefits required under the law as well as be sold across state lines. The order also directed officials to loosen rules for low-cost, short-term health insurance. Trump claims these changes give consumers cheaper options. But health insurance (and basically everyone else) fear it could shift insurance markets back to their pre-ACA days when healthy people paid less but people with preexisting conditions often found coverage unaffordable.

According to the Brookings Institute, a version of these self-insured association plans first became widespread in the 1980s but they failed in droves because many were undercapitalized. Even worse, these earlier association plans had a history of becoming what the Labor Department referred to as, “scam artists.” And it’s known that some of these low-cost plans cover virtually nothing. The Government Accountability Office reported AHPs were “bogus entities [that] have exploited employers and individuals seeking affordable coverage.” In 1992, more than two dozen states found that these early association plans had committed fraud, embezzlement, and other criminal violations. AHPs also run a greater risk for insolvency when claims unexpectedly exceed their ability to pay and have a long history of financial instability. When a long-standing AHP covering 20,000 in New Jersey became insolvent in 2002, its outstanding medical bills totaled $15 million. Though employers paid their premiums, claims made by them and their workers remained unpaid. And it doesn’t help that even these plans’ strongest proponents want guardrails placed on what groups can qualify. For many associations offer health plans to just about anyone who needs insurance, not just small business owners. You don’t need to be a farmer to join the Farm Bureau and business associations can be open anyone filing a Schedule C tax form. Some even have skimpier qualifications that they’re criticized as “air breather” associations in which the only commonality among its members is need for air for breathing.

So it’s no surprise that insurers and state-based regulators have criticized Donald Trump’s provision as a counterproductive step that could pave way for a new batch of flimsy, poor regulated health plans. states are often well positioned with broad enforcement authority to protect their residents by preventing or quickly identifying and closing down scam health insurance operators, many of whom have long used association health plans to sell fraudulent coverage to hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting consumers. However, unlike large employer plans and Obamacare, Trump’s executive order exempts AHPs from state authority. Thus, severely hurting the states’ ability to protect consumers. Instead, the US Department of Labor would primarily enforce AHPs but without the tools, resources, and culture to protect against fraud. As a result, con artists can potentially use existence of federally approved AHPs to so regulatory confusion in order to avoid state detection and shield themselves from law enforcement. So if you work for a small business that has an association plan, you may not be able to get help from your state insurance department if claims aren’t paid.
Though association plans may work great for small businesses with younger healthier workers, those with older, sicker workers will be charged higher premiums. Should one of these younger healthier employees experience a medical emergency, their insurance may not cover the care they need. In addition, small business owners might be incentivized to fire more medically costly employees to avoid premium increases. At any rate, a medical crisis could be potentially ruinous for small business employees under these plans, particularly if they become uninsured in the process. Furthermore, association plans might give small employers more incentives to reject certain applicants based on medical needs. Meanwhile, those on the Obamacare marketplaces will find their coverage less stable and secure if they have preexisting conditions since their insurance will be more expensive and consist of fewer people. Nevertheless, though association health plans may seem like affordable insurance, they’re actually poorly regulated inferior products that are only low-cost to consumers until something goes horribly wrong. But they also destabilize the insurance market which makes more viable small group and individual insurance more expensive and less accessible to those who need it the most. Such destabilization can result in higher medical costs, fewer options, and less healthcare access in the individual market.

When less regulated association health plans compete with fully regulated markets, they create an uneven playing field that can disrupt markets. People who don’t need to cover preexisting conditions or don’t want to pay community rates gravitate toward the better deals association plans offer, leaving sicker people in the regulated markets and having to pay higher costs. Thus, regulated market insurance prices increase, sometimes causing a death spiral that crashes the market and puts consumers at risk. Kentucky experienced this in the 1990s when it reformed its individual market but exempted association plans from the reforms. Association plan enrollment shot up while regulated market insurers pulled out. Within 2 years the state’s reforms were repealed. Though association plans were only a part of Kentucky’s failed market reforms, they’re still a major reason why the state’s health disaster now serves as a lesson for other states to avoid similar reforms.

Second, Donald Trump signed an executive order ordered the government to stop paying insurance subsidies that allowed low-income people to pay out-of-pocket medical expenses that could be as high as $7,150 for individuals and $14,300 for families. Known as cost-sharing reductions or CSRs, these subsidies drawn from a $7 billion fund had been embroiled in legal and political battles between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans over whether Congress had authorized the president to pay for them. A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 60% of the public thought Congress should guarantee these payments continue. Most Republicans, however, consider them insurance company bailouts and wanted them to end.

Eliminating CSRs is an inherently unpopular policy does nothing but hurt people and waste money. Without subsidies, insurance markets could quickly unravel. Cutting them will result in insurers issuing premium increases as high as 20-25% by 2018-2020 for anyone using Obamacare. Furthermore, an already fragile Obamacare marketplace at greater risk of a last minute health plan exodus by those who assumed the government would pay these subsidies and feel they can’t take the significant financial losses. This can result in as many as 1 million Americans uninsured next year. As those insurance plans make double digit rate increases, the government will have to spend billions more on the other subsidies that 10 million Americans receive to purchase that coverage. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the move will ultimately cost the federal government $194 billion over the next decade. To put it this way, by eliminating CSRs, Donald Trump has enacting a policy where the government spends billions to insure fewer people. And therefore, one that helps nobody and hurts millions.

It’s very clear that Donald Trump’s presidential agenda is destroying Barack Obama’s legacy than trying to replace, fix, or improve his predecessor’s biggest accomplishments. Or perhaps help some of the very people who voted him into office. Though he and the Republicans see Obamacare as a political football, his actions will have immediate and very real consequences for Americans. Real people will be hurt by an administration that has actively decided to make a public benefits program function poorly. All these executive orders do is drain Obamacare of the resources it needs to deliver care to the many millions who’ve signed on to the program. Dividing the healthy from the sick in the name of allegedly expanding choice and driving up healthcare costs for sick people benefitting from Obamacare is an egregious idea that only ruins lives and helps nobody. Though the ACA isn’t a perfect and could use a few fixes, to let it fail simply out of spite is outright cruel.

Healthcare is a human right every American is entitled to and the federal government should guarantee access to all. Nobody should be turned away from the healthcare regardless if they can afford it or who has to pay for it. And if it’s taxpayers footing the bill, so be it. If a medical treatment should save a sick or injured person’s life, nothing else should matter. Because to deny medical care robs Americans of their dignity as well as their life, liberty, and their pursuit of happiness. The fact the United States has a for-profit healthcare system that discriminates against the poor is unconscionable for corporations, politicians, and employers shouldn’t decide who has access. It’s essentially indefensible that Donald Trump and the Republican Party not only think it’s okay to deny people medical care, but they’re also perfectly fine with throwing people off their health insurance. Furthermore, they don’t see any problem with letting the Children’s Health Insurance Program expire and jeopardizing healthcare coverage for 9 million kids. To believe only certain people should healthcare because you don’t want more government intrusion in your life and don’t want to pay for other people’s treatment is extremely selfish, degrading, and dehumanizing to the most vulnerable who need it. The fact the Republicans embrace such pathological ideology that government has no role to guarantee healthcare to its citizens is an absolute travesty. And it’s a viewpoint I find completely indefensible that I can’t respect it as an acceptable political opinion. In the United States, universal healthcare shouldn’t be controversial partisan issue but one every American should embrace wholeheartedly. After all, everyone needs healthcare and it’s the right thing to do. Because healthcare shouldn’t be about politics but people’s lives. Americans deserve a universal healthcare system that is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Not a pay to play system dominated by corporations.

A Shallow Emphasis on Patriotism

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As president, Donald Trump constantly exacerbates cultural conflict in order to distract Americans from his destructive policies and their devastating results. Apparently, he prefers politics as a zero-sum culture war through his use of racist dog whistles to appeal to his base. He’s willing to inflict enough controversy to make sure his race-based politics dominate the public debate. During an Alabama rally in late September, Trump reignited the conflict over the NFL’s protests that San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick started last year. Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem in protest to police brutality and systematic racism ignited a firestorm across the nation which he eventually paid the price. Trump requested that NFL owners fire kneeling players, arguing that the protests were disrespectful to the flag and armed forces which soon resulted in a second wave of protests where the number of players kneeling exploded. Some team owners joined in as well though their support of Trump and their blacklisting of Kaepernick make me question their sincerity. On Sunday October 8, 2017, Trump reportedly sent Vice President Mike Pence to a Colts-49ers game in Indianapolis with explicit instructions to walk out just as players took a knee. Pence did what he was told and the media swarmed on this story like a dog over a dangling piece of meat. The action reeks publicity stunt to distract the public from his terrible policies and notorious scandals.

We must acknowledge that Donald Trump’s attacks on kneeling NFL players is nothing but a racist tirade wrapped in the guise of flag waving patriotism. Attacking political opponents as disrespectful to neutral patriotic symbols is a cheap but persuasive technique when pandering to white conservatives who don’t take nonconformity with patriotic rituals very well at all. Nevertheless, such patriotic grandstanding has been effective in convincing millions of Americans to support wars no matter how unjust and discredit anti-war protests without listening to what they had to say for decades. It has brought down political careers as well as cost political candidates election. Now it’s one thing to politically disagree with someone. But whenever a conservative plays the patriot card to shill a political opponent, it’s subtle character assassination. By questioning an opponent’s patriotism, they’re implying that their personal beliefs and actions are quintessentially Un-American and they’re unpatriotic for holding them. When Trump alleges kneeling NFL players for disrespecting the flag during the national anthem, he’s implying that they don’t love or respect America. Because only ungrateful Un-Americans would dare protest the national anthem. And the fact most NFL players are black while the audience is mostly white allows Trump to ignite racialized political conflicts in a perfect storm.

However, we must understand that the kneeling players’ disrespect for America and its flag, is nothing but a total and malicious lie. Most protestors never actually intend to disrespect the flag or the military whether they use patriotic symbols or not. The fact the Bill of Rights guarantees Americans freedom of speech has long established that openly disagreeing with your country’s policies, leaders, institutions, or government isn’t unpatriotic in the United States. Rather most people protest because to address problems in their country they want their fellow Americans to fix like systematic racial injustice. What Colin Kaepernick protested when he took a knee during the national anthem, he didn’t do so because he was ungrateful and hated America. But because he strongly believed that police officers shouldn’t kill unarmed people of color with impunity and that racism was wrong. His refusal to stand for the national anthem was his way of calling national attention to a cause on behalf of an underrepresented people who mostly don’t share his wealth or social standing. As he told an NFL.com reporter, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Besides, Kaepernick settled on taking a knee as a peaceful gesture of respect on a teammate’s advice (who was a military veteran by the way). Like what American soldiers do in reverence for a fallen comrade. Or when a fellow player gets hurt during a game. Or that you respect the flag but think the ideals it represents aren’t being realized which was exactly what Kaepernick tried to convey. Furthermore, his gesture was silent, non-disruptive, and entirely nonviolent. Judging by the fact he’s lost millions of dollars and another backup quarterback job in the foreseeable future over a cause he believes in, his actions aren’t exactly selfish for he’s gained absolutely nothing from it. Well, other than a barrage of racial slurs and death threats from Internet trolls as well as notoriety in the right-wing media machine. Nevertheless, given that the NFL mostly consists of black athletes, many of his fellow of players joined him since they like Kaepernick see their fame and success put them in a position of power to call attention to what they, their families, and those in their communities have experienced day after day.

Of course, Americans don’t like politics inserted in their sports games. Rather they would rather see sports as a respite from the partisan fray where Americans can come together to enjoy a few hours of mindless entertainment. Nor do they want any reminders that racism is still alive and well in America despite that we have Martin Luther King Day and elected a black president. Even as people of color still face horrendous systemic racial discrimination every single day of their lives that the phrase “black lives matter” incites just as much white rage as it would in the 1920s (then again, maybe not). Kaepernick knew his actions were unpopular because protests are meant to cause public discomfort to show that something is so wrong that routine American life simply can’t go on as is. Because hundreds of Black Lives Matter activists have also received the considerable backlash from the very same people who malign him. Not to mention, the cause of civil rights for racial minorities has never been a popular one in white America since it involves minorities making demands on society at large. Sure you may have white people discuss Martin Luther King Jr. in reverence on his national holiday in January. But many of these very same individuals would’ve addressed him with racial slurs, death threats, and physical violence while he was alive during the 1960s, especially in the South. In fact, King was eventually assassinated precisely for his civil rights activism he’s remembered for. Also, the FBI had wiretapped him for years because director J. Edgar Hoover was extremely racist and saw civil rights activists as Un-American communists. Oh, and police arrested and jailed him for protesting segregation multiple times. The Klu Klux Klan even burned a cross on his front lawn. We should also remember that the 1960s South also saw a spike in new Confederate memorials, Confederate flags flown at their state capitols, and numerous incidents of racially-motivated terrorism particularly by the Klu Klux Klan. Public opinion polls during that time repeatedly found that most Americans said blacks should stop the civil rights demonstrations and that the protests would ultimately hurt them. If Martin Luther King was alive today, he’d certainly take a knee for Kaepernick during the national anthem during a sporting event. After all, those who championed Jackie Robinson’s “gracious” rise said the exact same shit Kaepernick had to put up with once he started advocating for race-related causes. Mostly because he couldn’t eat at the same restaurants and stay in the same hotels as his teammates during away games.

The truth is that for many Americans, patriotism is complicated. This is especially the case with people of color who’ve endured hundreds of years of systematic racism whether it be slavery, segregation, and mass incarceration for blacks, removal and reservations for Native Americans, immigration restrictions and citizenship bans for Asians, enhanced security checks for Muslims and anyone looking like one, along with fears of undocumented immigration for Hispanics. But despite how the government and their fellow countrymen treated marginalized people, most of them still considered themselves proud Americans. Many of them fought and died for this country. And if they protested, it wasn’t out of disrespect but out of desiring the same rights, privileges, representation, and opportunities their white counterparts take for granted. In other words, they just want to be accepted as Americans as anyone else in this country. After all, it was Martin Luther King Jr. himself who said during the March on Washington in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963: “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed – we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” People of color don’t protest out of disrespect for the American flag, but because they want their country to live up to the democratic ideals the American flag represents. Civil rights activists like King demonstrated on the streets were willing to endure violence, jail time, and even death for that. If that doesn’t express a love for one’s country, I don’t know what does.

However, white fragility and privilege being what it is, much of white America may be fine with racial equality but only in theory but most want to do what it takes to actually achieve it. Many don’t want to treat people of color as their social equals if it means losing their special whiteness perks. A lot of white Americans aren’t happy to see disadvantaged minorities who disproportionately benefit from social programs and policies. They believe in the idea that if people of color receive special benefits, they stand to lose what they have. Despite that plenty of white Americans would be much better off with racial equality even after losing their white privilege. If a person of a color is rich, famous, and/or successful, then many white Americans may resent them when they take a stand against racism. Since they may wonder why these non-white celebrities have the nerve to question a country that so richly rewarded them. For millions of white Americans it’s easier to believe in a glorious past that whitewashes all the racial ugliness than come to terms with seeing themselves as oppressors. Some may only acknowledge racism as a distant memory instead of a specter haunting, dividing, and corrupting Americans in insidious and divisive ways to this day. Either way, those in both camps will most likely view the Civil Rights Movement as a peaceful kumbaya fest that it wasn’t. Many white Americans either live in a bubble of ignorance or refuse to acknowledge that they generously benefit from systematic racism. Or that their white privilege comes at a terrible price to themselves, especially if they’re poor. And when people of color protest to their discomfort, many white Americans really don’t really want to understand. Because most would rather continue their life as it is than confront the ugly reality of racism that many people of color face. So they find ways to discredit troublesome protesters like inflicting the patriot card as in Colin Kaepernick’s case or alleging Black Lives Matter activists as cop killing thugs. They may criticize how racial minorities are so unwilling to acknowledge progress and express gratitude for living in a free country. In any case, many white Americans just want protesting people of color to shut up about discrimination and get over it. It’s one thing when whites wonder why people of color can’t express their dissent in an orderly law-abiding way whenever unrest erupts at their demonstrations against perceive injustice. But every time a person of color protests peacefully, the same whites angrily object to the message, the tactics, and the slogans’ purpose. Let’s just say, whenever racial minorities protest, it’s not how, why, and where that upsets whites. But the fact they’re protesting at all, let alone raising issues white people don’t want to hear.

Fortunately, now that we have a national holiday honoring the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., it’s firmly established that publicly speaking out against racism doesn’t make you unpatriotic. Expressing discontent of your country’s problems doesn’t make you disloyal. Nor does expecting your nation to live up to the ideals it celebrates and represents. The First Amendment makes this perfectly clear so protesting the national anthem is well within exercising one’s constitutional rights. Even if Donald Trump and his white conservative supporters claim otherwise. Still, Donald Trump’s use of patriotism to discredit NFL anthem protesters and called for a boycott until the NFL forces their players to stand is particularly disgusting. For one, forced patriotic reverence is basically what authoritarian dictators do and violates the constitution. Second, his attacks on NFL protests contain plenty of racist undertones on the idea that people of color should shut up. We all know that Trump sees nonstop racialized politics as a winning strategy to pander to his supporters. Besides, he’s encouraged supporters to attack minority protesters at his rallies, failed to condemn white supremacists in Charlottesville, called for an ESPN host’s firing after she called him a white supremacist, promoted birtherism, was sued for housing discrimination, called for the deaths of the Central Park Five, and pardoned Joe Arpaio.

But most importantly though he casts himself as a defender of national symbols, Donald Trump is far from an American patriot. He may proclaim he loves his country and wrap himself in the American flag. However, Trump often grandstands patriotic platitudes to exploit the country for his own personal gain. He’s used his wealth and privilege to get out of Vietnam, taxes, and accountability for his egregious business practices that have ruined countless American lives. He’s flagrantly abused his power and influence during his presidency such as violating the Emoluments Clause in the US Constitution. In his whole life, he’s made no personal sacrifices for the United States despite all the good his country has done for him. He doesn’t understand anything about the very government he leads nor does he express any interest to do so. He has no appreciation for American democratic principles that this country was built on such as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people along with the idea that all are created equal. He has no grasp of history and no interest in learning it. He sees First Amendment rights as an obstacle against silencing his critics and quell demonstrations against him. I mean the guy explodes into a Twitter fit accusing the media of “fake news” whenever they report an unflattering story about him. Not to mention, he’s either sued or threaten to sue people who’ve challenged him. Then there’s the fact he’s threatened to rescind NBC’s license after they reported on him wanting to increase our nuclear arsenal 10 times. Despite that he enjoys a lot of support from veterans, his long record of veterans bashing really shows he doesn’t respect those who’ve served in uniform. He’s called POWs losers, set up a fake veterans hotline, promised to donate $6 million to veterans with no intention of actually doing so, attacked Gold Star parents, claimed how he always wanted a Purple Heart after receiving one from a supporter, and claiming he knows more about ISIS than the generals. Trump has praised authoritarian despots like Vladimir Putin as well as done business with those who don’t support American interests like Qaddafi. Even goes as far as publicly stating that the US isn’t much better than Russia. Oh, and his presidential campaign colluded with Russia by initiating hacks and misinformation on his opponents, particularly Hillary Clinton. Then there are his speeches describing the US as a Hunger Games hellscape a la “American Carnage.”

Thus, we must understand that while we may identify patriotism with national symbols like waving the American flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or standing for the “Star Spangled Banner.” Yet, these civil rituals are only shallow expressions of love for one’s country. Patriotic grandstanding is easy. Actually making sacrifices for one’s country or the ideals it represents is extremely difficult and may not always guarantee you praises from your fellow countrymen. In fact, it might come at considerable cost that most flag waving Americans aren’t willing to pay. We may parade our veterans and servicemen as heroes to thank for their service. But many of us have a shallow understanding on what it takes to respect their sacrifice. Our country has far too many veterans on the street while many still experience homelessness, mental illness, health problems, disability, and financial difficulties. Just standing for the national anthem, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and thanking soldiers for their service aren’t enough. We may celebrate those who take on American society to affirm its principles at a considerable risk. But we usually forget how often they faced backlash from a hostile American public. Some have lost careers and reputations. Some have gone to prison. Some have endured threats, physical violence, terror attacks, and alienation from loved ones. Some have even died. Nevertheless, who is the real patriot here? Is it the man who grandstands with American flags to attract legions in order to ruthlessly exploit the country he claims to love for personal enrichment? Or is the man respectfully taking a knee during the national anthem because he didn’t like cops getting away with murder? Is it the man who insists athletes stand for the national anthem but disrespects our men and women in uniform and seeks assistance of a hostile foreign power to win an election? Or is it the man willing to risk a lucrative career and be the most unfairly treated player in the NFL because he was unsatisfied how our country doesn’t live up to its ideals it represents? Is it the man who claims to love America but has no appreciation for its history, values, or democracy? Or is it the man willing to endure immense hatred from millions of people for championing a cause for Americans who don’t share his good fortune? It shouldn’t be hard to decide whose love of country we should honor.

Don’t Tell Me It’s Now’s Not the Time To Talk About Guns

At around 10 pm on the night of Sunday, October 1, 2017 during a Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, a gunman from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino opened gunfire on the outdoor crowd of 22,000 people below while country singer Jason Aldean performed on stage. The firing lasted for 11 minutes resulting in 59 dead and over 500 injured in what became the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. The shooter was a 64-year-old white man named Stephen Paddock who lived in a Mesquite, Nevada retirement community. By the time police reached his room, he was found dead, having shot himself in the head shortly before. Though he acted alone, Las Vegas police couldn’t find a motive. He had no criminal record or any investigative history showing he was dangerous. But what they did find was an arsenal of 23 guns and a large quantity of ammunition in his hotel room that he had occupied since September 28. The guns consisted of a handgun and 22 rifles including AR-15s, Kalasnikovs, AR 10s, and other .308 caliber rifles. Two of the rifles were mounted with bipods and equipped with telescopic sights. Over half of the guns were modified semi-automatic weapons with bump fire stocks which can simulate full automatic fire. As for the ammunition well, there were numerous high capacity magazines holding up to 100 rounds apiece. Paddock transported all this weapon stash to his hotel suite in over 10 suitcases during his stay and installed hidden cameras inside and out to monitor others’ arrival. Along with 24 other firearms found in Verde and Mesquite, Nevada, they were legally purchased from Nevada, Utah, California, and Texas as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives determined. Several pounds of fertilizer was found in his car. Though we don’t know why Paddock decided to fire upon concertgoers, all the evidence screams he had meticulously planned the whole thing in advance.

Yet, this is one of several major mass shootings the United States has experienced within my own lifetime. I’ve seen the whole scheme play out too many times in the same tragic and senseless song and dance routine. First, you have a gunman fire upon unsuspecting individuals at a public venue resulting in a high death and injury count and feelings of tear jerking shock and horror. What follows is the public in grips of mourning as further details of the shooter unfold along with tributes of victims such as thoughts and prayers. You might get plenty of public figures calling out for gun control. Only for those supporting gun rights decry how it’s inappropriate to debate about gun control in a tragedy’s aftermath. As time goes on, the story starts to fade and everyone moves on. Until the next shooting occurs to start the whole cycle over again. But whether it’s a black church, a movie theater, elementary school, workplace, nightclub, military base, college, or outdoor concert venue, too many Americans refuse to learn the harsh lessons of the costs lax gun laws. In fact, many states have enacted pro-gun legislation that make guns more readily available. Whenever it comes to causes of gun violence, gun rights advocates usually find some other excuse like mental health, violent video games, moral decay, sanctuary cities, and anything else. Anything but guns. Then they say how the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms which shouldn’t be infringed. And that gun control restricts freedom by giving the federal government license to seize firearms from law-abiding citizens. Such concepts are blatant lies. But they’ve resulted in devastating consequences. The Centers for Disease Control has been banned from researching gun violence since 1996. President Barack Obama’s Surgeon General received outcry for framing gun violence as a public health issue. Attempts to pass even the most minimal gun controls laws have gone nowhere in Congress.

Meanwhile, gun violence touches every segment of our society endangering Americans every day. There have been 1,500 mass shootings since the 2012 Sandy Hook Massacre. On average the United States experiences more than one mass shooting a day. Gun violence claims 31 American deaths and 151 injuries every day. For every American who dies from a gunshot wound, two others are wounded. And for each American shot, people’s lives are forever changed by their loved ones’ deaths and injuries. Annual costs for gun violence amount to at least $229 billion including $8.6 billion in direct expenses like emergency medical care. Gun violence increases likelihood of deaths in domestic violence incidents. It raises the chances of fatalities by those intending to injure others and among those attempting suicide. It places children and young people at special risk. And like most of America’s social problems, it disproportionately affects communities of color. If gun violence isn’t a public health crisis in the US, I don’t know what is.

Too many times we’ve been told after a mass shooting that discussing gun control is taboo. Too many times “thoughts and prayers” has proven too insufficient for the real action to prevent mass shootings. Too many times has the Second Amendment been viewed as a sacred cow by gun advocates and the National Rifle Association. Too many times our leaders have done nothing to prevent future mass shootings that it’s only a matter a time when the next one takes place. It’s already been way past time to talk about gun violence, especially for the hundreds of Americans who died at the pull of the trigger. Or all those who struggle with disabilities, lingering injuries, and PTSD thanks to some guy with a gun he shouldn’t even have. Whenever there’s a national problem that’s put Americans at risk, our nation has done something about it. Politicians have worked tirelessly to instill regulations to protect people from further harm and make sure those deaths and injuries don’t happen again. But somehow whenever there’s a mass shooting it’s different when it shouldn’t be.

Regardless of what Bill O’Reilly said, gun violence shouldn’t be the cost of freedom in America. Even in a country as gun obsessed as the United States, our society should never accept or normalize mass murder as a price of freedom. We should never accept the meaningless slaughter of children, loved ones, friends, and other living their peaceful lives for those who want to possess military grade weapons in the name of their personal freedom. It’s not freedom when you can’t go to a public space without worrying about how some psycho can easily buy semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines showering bullets to kill scores of innocents within minutes. True freedom is knowing we’re reasonably safe from such nutcases with these weapons. If more guns resulted in less gun violence, then the United States would be one of the safest nations in the world and we wouldn’t need to worry about mass shootings. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t work that way since the latest validated statistics confirms that more guns leads to more deadly violence. So the fact the US has one of the highest rates of gun violence and leads the world in mass shootings shouldn’t be a surprise. There is no legitimate reason why semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines and bump stocks should be available to the general public and carried around all over the place. If we want to ensure people’s true freedom and safety, we must work hard to make sure these killing machines are out of civilians’ hands. And ensure that those prone to violence don’t have access to a gun in the first place. We can prevent the next mass shooting and the tragic loss of life. The question is whether we’re willing to do so. But as far as I’m concerned, we need to discuss gun violence and implement common sense gun control measures now. Because if we don’t, then how many senseless tragedies must we have to bear before we do something?