What Did We Learn from Trump’s Tax Returns?

The New York Times released a bombshell report (below) revealing Trump’s tax returns. In 2016, Trump shocked many with his refusal to disclose his tax returns, a common norm for presidential candidates. Throughout his presidency, ongoing pressure and legal attempts have failed to get him to hand over the returns. Here’s what we’ve learned from the NYT’s reveal:

Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750. He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.

A large part of the reason why Trump and the Trump Organization were purportedly able to minimize tax payments was by claiming that substantial personal expenses, including Trump’s lavish use of multiple residences, personal aircraft, and even hairstyling for his television appearances, should offset income. The reporting also shows a longtime strategy of tax avoidance using purported losses from Trump Organization entities as a bulwark against paying taxes.

One eye-catching takeaway from the deep look into Trump’s strenuously shielded tax filings is that Trump loses a lot of money. Like, a lot. He loses millions at his prized foreign and U.S. golf properties, the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and many of the roughly 500 entities that make up the Trump Organization.

What Should We Expect from Today’s Debate?

At long last, the first presidential debate of the 2020 election is upon us. Tonight at 6 PM (Pacific), Trump and Biden will face off for the first time. Here’s what to expect:

On Tuesday, Joe Biden will finally – finally – be forced to answer tough questions from a non-sycophant newsman. Can the Democrat candidate survive 90 minutes of an unscripted, fast-paced presidential debate without claiming to have been in the Senate for 180 years or putting the COVID-19 death toll at 200 million Americans, goofs he has made in recent days?

Trump, on the other hand, enters this debate as an embattled incumbent, nine points behind in a race in which Americans already have begun voting. The clock is ticking, and this debate is the President’s best — if not his last — chance to change the structure of a race that has been locked in against him throughout the year.

If Joe Biden has a severe senior moment or if Donald Trump goes too far in trying to force one, the precious few undecided voters out there could move in one direction or another.

But the most likely scenario is that these two septuagenarian men, each with long histories of unleashing sentences resembling unmanned firehoses attached to pressurized bovine manure tanks, will confirm what everybody already thinks about them.

How Important Are Amy Coney Barrett’s Qualifications?

The debate about Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court has mostly centered on the question of whether or not it is appropriate to appoint a Justice in an election year. Some say this has obscured substantive talk of Ms. Barrett’s qualifications. Others say this doesn’t matter.

We have a Supreme Court nominee who is a brilliant lawyer, a genuine and good person — and someone who holds views about how to interpret the law that I think are wrong and, in certain respects, misguided. I hope the senators at her hearing treat her with respect.

In nominating Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, President Trump has exercised a constitutional prerogative that he will enjoy up until Jan. 20, even if he is defeated in the November election. He also has chosen a legal scholar who is respected even by lawyers who disagree with her.

Neither of those facts requires that the Senate approve the nomination. We continue to believe that the vacancy created by Ginsburg’s death so close to the Nov. 3 election shouldn’t be filled until after the inauguration of the winner of that election…

I’m uncomfortable. It’s not Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s qualifications. Her resume has been touted, her academic scholarship displayed. She has specific and recent experience serving as a federal appellate circuit court judge, albeit only for a short tenure.
Still, I’m uncomfortable with any judicial selection process that sets Lady Justice’s blindfold on fire.

Will California’s Wine Country Survive the Fires?

Devastating fires are raging in California’s famed Napa Valley, prompting evacuations and causing major damage to vineyards and wineries.

Fire exploded across the Napa Valley overnight Sunday, prompting evacuation orders in parts of St. Helena and Calistoga, and extending well into Sonoma County.

Six thousand people were ordered out of their homes in Napa County, with another 5,000 people under evacuation warnings Monday.

As the fire has moved so quickly, exact levels of damage are as yet unknown. But according to Getty photographer Justin Sullivan, several businesses along St. Helena’s Silverado Trail have been destroyed, including the Chateau Boswell Winery… Also destroyed in the blaze was Black Rock Inn, a boutique bed-and-breakfast near downtown St. Helena.

Wine country – a diverse region that is home to some of the state’s most famous wineries as well as low-income neighborhoods and homeless communities – has been scarred by terrible fires in recent years, including the 2017 Tubbs fire, which killed 22 people and destroyed more than 5,600 homes and other buildings. “The county is experienced with this, sadly,” the Sonoma county lawmaker Susan Gorin said in a news briefing. Gorin lost her home in the 2017 fires and was forced to evacuate on Sunday.

Are Women Being Deleted in Beit Shemesh?

A new development in the heavily religious Israeli city of Beit Shemesh is causing major strife. The new streets were originally going to be named after prominent Haredi Jews, but the city decided to add other notable figures celebrated by mainstream Zionists, notably Anne Frank and Hannah Senesh. Haredim, upset by these inclusions, are insisting their first names be removed from the streets. More at Jerusalem Post.

The Haredization of Beit Shemesh is real, the turf war is in full swing, and it is the city that loses… And now large swaths of Beit Shemesh youth have been raised with the conviction that women and Zionism are treif, taboo, unclean.

Beit Shemesh Mayor Aliza Bloch said: “I suggest that [during the high holidays] we focus on the memories of the heroes and not on unnecessary attempts to make every little thing a tribal issue and divisive. The memories of these people are deserving of more than that.”

Now it remains to choose which glasses to look at the move: Will you wear the pessimistic glasses with which “Klein Street” or “Szenes Street” are all that matters? Or should we look through the optimistic glasses and see that the ultra-Orthodox city council has largely chosen to commemorate Uriel and Eliraz Peretz, Roi Klein, Hannah Szenes, and Haviva Reich?

What’s New in Jewish Thought?

Can Judaism bring nuance to the abortion debate? Is break-fast a better holiday than Yom Kippur? Should G-d have to answer for the coronavirus?

Judaism regards a fetus neither as a baby nor as a tumor. It views it as an entity with the potential to become a human being. That doesn’t, admittedly, direct us to any clarity about the import of stages of gestation or how to legislate protection of potential life. But what it does do is direct us to consider that a potential human being isn’t something to treat like a kidney.

The break-fast has taken hold of the contemporary American Jewish imagination in ways that even the most creatively minded authors of The Jewish Catalog and The Jewish Home Beautiful would never have envisioned. It’s gotten to the point where the repast comes awfully close to eclipsing the actual fast.

For the faithful Jew, who has always looked to God for guidance and support, the spiritual implications of a global pandemic cannot be ignored. Indeed, from a religious perspective, how could God not be responsible for coronavirus?

Today’s Hot Issues

What Did We Learn from Trump’s Tax Returns? What Should We Expect from Today’s Debate? How Important Are Amy Coney Barrett’s Qualifications? Will California’s Wine Country Survive the Fires? Are Women Being Deleted in Beit Shemesh? What’s New in Jewish Thought?