Trump Ghostwriter Charles Leerhsen Says President Was Bad At Business

On Tuesday, The New York Times scooped the world on the news that from 1985 to 1994, Donald Trump incurred the biggest business losses of any single taxpayer in American history.

What was it like for him to lose more than $1 billion in a decade? Was he perpetually ashen-faced with fear? Or smirking at the thought of outwitting the IRS “for sport,” as he said in a Wednesday morning tweet?

I happen to know, because from late 1988 to 1990, I was his ghostwriter, working on a book that would be called “Surviving at the Top.” Right in the middle of this period, I can tell you that the answer is that he was neither. Except for an occasional passing look of queasiness, or anger, when someone came into his Trump Tower office and whispered the daily win/loss numbers at his Atlantic City casinos, he seemed to be bored out of his mind.

I tend to see my time with him — the first part of it, anyway, before things started going bad in a hurry — as his “King Midas” period. I never said this to him; if I had, he probably would have thought I was suggesting he enter the muffler business. But there was a stretch of months when everything he touched turned into a deal. The banks seemed to accept the version of him depicted in his first book, “The Art of the Deal,” which we now know from his previous ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, was entirely invented. They believed it over what they saw on his balance sheets or heard coming out of his mouth, and they never said no to his requests for more money. Often they came up with things he could say yes to before he could think of them himself. As a result, a failing real estate developer who had little idea of what he was doing and less interest in doing it once he’d held the all-important press conference wound up owning three New Jersey hotel-casinos, the Plaza Hotel, the Eastern Airlines Shuttle and a 281-foot yacht.


A real go-getter, right? But Trump’s portfolio did not jibe with what I saw each day — which to a surprisingly large extent was him looking at fabric swatches. Indeed, flipping through fabric swatches seemed at times to be his main occupation. Some days he would do it for hours, then take me in what he always called his “French military helicopter” to Atlantic City — where he looked at more fabric swatches or sometimes small samples of wood paneling. It was true that the carpets and drapes at his properties needed to be refreshed frequently, and the seats on the renamed Trump Shuttle required occasional reupholstering. But the main thing about fabric swatches was that they were within his comfort zone — whereas, for example, the management of hotels and airlines clearly wasn’t. One of his aides once told me that every room at the Plaza could be filled at the “rack rate” (list price) every night, and the revenue still wouldn’t cover the monthly payment of the loan he’d taken out to buy the place. In other words, he’d made a ridiculous deal. Neither he nor the banks had done the math beforehand. Or perhaps Trump knew it because someone had told him, but didn’t want to think about it. The one thing he is above-average at is compartmentalization.

On days when there were no broadlooms or chenilles to ponder, we would sit around his office and shoot the breeze while (as we now know) out there someplace in the real world, his businesses were hemorrhaging cash. He’d talk about the Yankees, show me pictures of Marla Maples (whom he was then romancing while still married to Ivana) and tell me obviously made-up stories, such as how he had just the other day seen a beautiful, completely naked woman on the street. “Put that in the book!” he’d say, and I’d pretend to write it down.

Occasionally famous people like Bob Hope or America’s Cup captain Dennis Conner came by for no obvious purpose, except that they were holding court and it helped Trump pass the time. Once during a lull I told him a story I thought he’d like to hear about how I had just taken the Trump Shuttle to Washington, and as we flew through a storm the plane had been struck by lightning. I commended the pilot for the way he handled the incident; he had gotten on the loudspeaker to tell the passengers what had happened and to reassure them.


But instead of being pleased to hear that, Trump, using the general number, immediately dialed the shuttle to demand to know why he hadn’t been informed about what had happened. Unfortunately it took about 10 rings before it was answered by a woman who said, “Good morning, Trump Shuttle.” By then he was purple with rage. “This … is … Donald … Trump!” he growled. For the poor woman, it must have been like working at Popeye’s and getting a call from the sailor man himself. “Why did it take so long to answer this phone?” Trump demanded. Then, after bawling her out for a minute or two, he hung up abruptly, forgetting why he had called in the first place.

Each day was a string of such nonsensical moments. Once, trying to steer the conversation toward something we could actually use in our book, I asked him about his father. “We haven’t touched on him yet,” I said. “What can you tell me?”

He stared into the middle distance and began to speak. “My father…”

A long pause followed. Then he said, “Charles, put something there. I’ll look at it later.”

Trump’s King Midas period ended in early 1990, when news broke about his looming bankruptcy. At around the same time, Ivana said she was leaving him, and Mike Tyson, who had drawn so many people into Trump’s Atlantic City hotels, got knocked out by Buster Douglas in Japan. Everything was going to hell. Of course, everything had been going to hell for a a couple of years by then, but now his failure, for the first time, was public, and that made it 100 times worse. That made it real.


In the final weeks of working on the book, we attempted to explain away his disasters, such as the forced sale of his yacht. “As much as I’ve enjoyed it until now,” he (I) wrote, “and as impressive as it’s been to my casino customers, I think I’m giving up the game of who’s got the best boat. … I don’t need it anymore, I don’t want it anymore, and, frankly, I can find better things to do with the money.”

Translation: I’m broke.

He seemed unusually subdued during this period, understandably. One day he told me a sobering story about seeing a homeless person on the street and realizing that man was better off than he was because the homeless man had nothing while he, Trump, had less than zero. Because Trump doesn’t ever walk down the street, would never notice a homeless person if he did and the story involved a degree of introspection, I knew it couldn’t be true and that he was probably parroting something he’d heard someone else say. Still, I included it in the revised introduction.

Let’s just say he didn’t like it. The harsh phone call I got began: “This … is … Donald … Trump.” That’s how I knew he’d built a nicely carpeted compartment around his colossal failures, and moved on.

Charles Leerhsen (@CharlesLeerhsen) is a biographer and historian whose books include “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty.

Not All Democratic Voters Are Looking For The Next Barack Obama

Joe Biden’s pitch for his third attempt to win his party’s presidential nomination has revolved largely around two words: Barack Obama.

The former vice president and early front-runner is casting himself not only as the most electable candidate, but also the one most able to carry on the legacy of the last president. If people long for a time before Donald Trump, Biden is their guy.

That strategy rests on a few assumptions: that Biden, not one of his fresher-faced rivals, is seen as Obama’s political heir; and that Democratic voters actually want to see the party reprise the Obama era, rather than taking, for example, a more progressive course. While there’s support for both assumptions, polling finds, neither is entirely clear-cut. And there’s also the question of how much Obama will even be on voters’ minds when they make their decisions in the primaries next year.

Biden As Obama’s Successor

At this time, Biden is seen as Obama’s successor more than any other candidate, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. But that view isn’t overwhelming, and there’s room for other candidates to claim that mantle for themselves.

Just under half of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters surveyed, (for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call them just “Democratic voters” from here out) list Biden as among the primary candidates who bear the most similarities to Obama.

“Obama was young, something of an outsider and non-white, but Biden is none of those things,” FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon Jr. wrote earlier this year. “It will be easy for other candidates to suggest that they, not Biden, are the ‘Obama candidate’ for 2020.”

But that number still puts him significantly ahead of any of his rivals for the time being. Between 24% and 27% say they see California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke and South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg as most like Obama. Fewer than 1 in 5 say the same of any of the other candidates, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

White Democratic voters are about four times likelier than nonwhites in the party to see Buttigieg as among the candidates most resembling Obama. Voters under age 35, meanwhile, are modestly less likely than older voters to give that imprimatur to Biden. Those patterns generally line up with the racial and age differences in support for the candidates.


Biden told reporters that he had asked his former boss not to make an endorsement in the race. But he’s also made his time in that administration a keystone of his nascent campaign, praising Obama’s leadership and labeling himself an “Obama-Biden Democrat.”

“President Obama has long said that selecting Joe Biden as his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made,” Obama spokeswoman Katie Hill said after Biden announced his candidacy. “He relied on the vice president’s knowledge, insight and judgment throughout both campaigns and the entire presidency. The two forged a special bond over the last 10 years and remain close today.”

That bond may be especially key for black voters ― a group whose positive views of Obama stand out even among other Democrats, and who now rank among Biden’s strongest supporters, according to early polls.

“He was with President Obama and you know what that means, he has a head start in my book,” Barbara Cain Seabrook, a 58-year-old churchgoer in South Carolina, told The New York Times.

Obama 2.0?

Not all Democratic voters are focused on electing another Obama, even though his post-presidency ratings have been generally good, and he remains almost universally popular within his own party. In the HuffPost/YouGov poll, 87% of Democratic voters approve of Obama’s record in office.

But a slimmer 54% majority of those voters say they want to see the next president continue Obama’s policies. Although only 3% want to see a continuation of Trump’s policies, a substantial 35% minority want to see the next president take the country in a different direction from either Obama or Trump.

Just under half of Democratic voters, 48%, say they want their next nominee to be about as liberal as Obama, with 31% hoping for someone more liberal. Fewer than a tenth are hoping to see the party move in a more conservative direction.

“The party has changed somewhat,” Paul Harstad, a pollster who worked for the Obama campaign, told The Associated Press. “I think the party is looking for someone more aggressive than Obama in tactics and approach.”

Support for a more liberal nominee is strongest among the party’s younger and more highly educated contingent. Forty-five percent of Democratic voters aged 35 or below want to see a more liberal nominee than Obama, while just a quarter of older Democrats say the same. College graduates are 12 points likelier than those without a degree to want a more liberal nominee.


Voters’ actual decisions about their presidential nominees, of course, rarely follow such neat ideological lines. (As just one example, a recent poll found that half of the voters considering Biden were also considering a vote for Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist).

But younger voters ― the group with whom Biden is struggling most ― are also generally less likely to look back on Obama’s White House with pronounced enthusiasm. Democratic voters aged 35 and under, the poll finds, are 17 points less likely than their older compatriots to approve strongly of Obama’s presidency as a whole, and between 13 and 17 points less likely to strongly approve of his work on the economy, foreign policy, the environment and health care. They’re 20 points less likely to think he accomplished a lot of positive change during his time in the White House.


Even voters who like Obama may not necessarily consider continuing his work to be a key selling point. In a Monmouth University survey of New Hampshire released this week, just 34% of Democratic primary voters said it was very important to them that their nominee build on Obama’s legacy.

“While Democrats may have positive feelings about Obama, the current White House occupant is a much more significant factor in the 2020 primary,” concluded Patrick Murray, the director of the poll. “In fact, it really isn’t an either-or calculation. Voters who value Obama’s legacy say the best way to preserve it is to beat Trump in 2020.”

Whichever Democrat faces Trump next year will eventually also have to contend with Obama’s legacy among the electorate as a whole. That proved to be a mixed blessing for Hillary Clinton in the previous election: In July 2016, despite Obama’s rising popularity and increasingly strong numbers for handling the economy, voters saw his presidential record as helping Donald Trump and hurting Clinton. At the time of Trump’s inauguration, just 31% of Americans said they wanted to see the new president continue Obama’s policies, while half said they hoped he’d go in a new direction.

Much of the public is still ready for something new. Just a quarter of Americans in the latest HuffPost/YouGov poll say they want to see the next president continue Obama’s policies, while only about a third want to see the next president follow in Trump’s footsteps. The rest want to see the next president move in a different direction from either of those predecessors, or say that they aren’t sure.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted April 24-25 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

California Synagogue Shooting Suspect Faces Hate Crime Charges

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Federal officials announced Thursday that they have filed 109 hate crime charges against the 19-year-old man accused of opening fire in a Southern California synagogue.

Prosecutors say the gunman, identified as John T. Earnest, killed a woman and wounded an 8-year-old girl, her uncle and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was leading the service at the Chabad of Poway synagogue on the last day of Passover, a major Jewish holiday.

In a court appearance last month, Earnest pleaded not guilty to state charges of murder and attempted murder. In a separate case, he has pleaded not guilty to burning a mosque in nearby Escondido.

Authorities say he fired at least eight shots in the synagogue before fleeing.

Earnest would be eligible for the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted of murder that is classified as a hate crime. California Gov. Gavin Newsom in March issued a moratorium on executions while he is in office.

John T. Earnest, left, appears for his arraignment hearing Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in San Diego. 



John T. Earnest, left, appears for his arraignment hearing Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in San Diego. 

Prosecutors say Earnest expressed his “intent to harm Jews” in an online posting. He also acknowledged using gasoline to spark a blaze that charred a wall of the Escondido mosque and scrawling graffiti praising the gunman who killed 50 people at two New Zealand mosques last month.

Earnest was an accomplished student, athlete and musician whose embrace of white supremacy and anti-Semitism stunned his family and others closest to him. He lived with his parents and made the dean’s list both semesters last year as a nursing student at California State University, San Marcos.

Earnest frequented 8chan, a dark corner of the web where those disaffected by mainstream social media sites often post extremist, racist and violent views.

“I’ve only been lurking here for a year and half, yet what I’ve learned here is priceless. It’s been an honor,” he wrote.

Federal hate crime charges were also filed against the gunman who last fall opened fire at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, killing 11 worshippers. Authorities in that case say Robert Bowers also expressed hatred of Jews. Bowers, 46, has pleaded not guilty

Chuck Schumer And Hakeem Jeffries Team Up On Bill To Federally Decriminalize Marijuana

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday announced he is reintroducing his bill to decriminalize and regulate marijuana at the federal level.

The legislation, which he first unveiled last year, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, where it is classified among drugs such as heroin and LSD. 

This time, however, Schumer is teaming up with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, who is introducing a companion measure in the lower chamber. 

The two Democratic leaders pitched the decriminalization of marijuana as a boon for minority communities and small business in a new video shot in their home neighborhood of Brooklyn.

“It’s about time we decriminalize marijuana … what we’re saying is very simple, let each state do what it wants,” Schumer says in the video, touting the provisions in the bill that allow states to set their own laws regulating the sale of marijuana.

The legislation also includes a criminal justice reform element, providing $100 million over five years to the Department of Justice to encourage state and local governments to bolster expungement programs for marijuana possession convictions.

“You’ve had lives and communities that have been ruined in large measure by the overcriminalization and so creating opportunity and economic space will be tremendous,” Jeffries, an outspoken advocate for cannabis, adds in the video.

Schumer’s collaboration with Jeffries is notable not just for their roots in Brooklyn. Jeffries is viewed by his Democratic colleagues as a rising star in the party and a potential future speaker. With Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) recently deciding to jump into New Mexico’s U.S. Senate race, Jeffries’ path to the speakership in years to come became even clearer.

With Jeffries and Schumer, two top Democrats in the House and Senate, on board, marijuana decriminalization at the federal level is one step closer to becoming a reality. But making it so will require the party to win back the Senate and White House in 2020 ― no easy task.

Public support for marijuana legalization has steadily grown. Last month, New Mexico became the latest state in the U.S. to decriminalize possession of marijuana. The Texas House of Representatives also voted in April to lower criminal penalties for possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (left) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries are teaming up to try to declassify marijuana as a contr



Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (left) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries are teaming up to try to declassify marijuana as a controlled substance.

Last year, Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a similar bill that would loosen federal guidelines on marijuana and give states more flexibility in determining their own laws. Gardner said last month that President Donald Trump told him he favored that bill, but that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remained an obstacle to its passage.

Schumer’s bill, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, includes millions of dollars dedicated to studying the effects of THC on the brain and its influence on drivers, as well as provisions to ensure that businesses cannot target children in their advertisements for cannabis.

“We’re concerned about freedom, we’re concerned about justice, we’re also concerned about safety and the bill takes good measures in that regard too,” Schumer says in the video.

Kids In America Are Missing School Because They Cant Afford Toothpaste And Tampons

The locked metal cabinet doesnt look amiss in Sarah Helms’ sixth grade classroom, with its bright yellow walls and green plastic stationery caddies. But rather than pencils, pens or binder paper, its shelves hold bottles of shampoo and body wash, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, cotton swabs, sanitary pads and tampons.

For the past three school years, Helms, an English teacher at Horace Maynard Middle School in Maynardville, Tennessee, has stocked a “hygiene closet” with personal care items donated for students from low-income families by fellow teachers, current and former Horace Maynard parents, and members of the community. Helms uses cash donations to buy supplies at the dollar store. Her parents gave her the cabinet.

“I noticed certain kids being picked on for not being well groomed, and I felt that many children were just too shy to go to an adult and ask for help with the items they needed,” Helms told HuffPost. She could see how it eroded their self-esteem when their classmates commented on their appearance or body odor.

Once a month, Helms pulls toothpaste, tampons and other toiletries — including “random donations,” such as hairbrushes, combs, body spray and lip balm — from the hygiene cabinet and packs them into plastic grocery bags for 14 girls and 17 boys.

“A huge blessing” is how one Horace Maynard parent I contacted described the hygiene closet at her son’s school. Helms reached out to this single mom (she asked to remain anonymous) at the start of the school year to see whether her son would be interested in receiving a hygiene pack. She said yes. Her son’s monthly bag includes shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, razors and cologne.

The shiny metal cabinet in Sarah Helms' sixth grade classroom is full of necessary supplies — not paper and pencils, bu



The shiny metal cabinet in Sarah Helms’ sixth grade classroom is full of necessary supplies — not paper and pencils, but personal care products.

Horace Maynards hygiene closet is just one of the thousands of similar programs in public elementary, middle and high schools across the U.S., according to data from DonorsChoose.org, an online giving platform where public school teachers can ask for funds for their classroom needs. The site has seen requests for hygiene and personal care products mushroom, from just one in 2002 to 1,789 last year. Nearly two-thirds of requests come from schools in urban areas, and they are particularly common among schools where three-quarters of students or more are from low-income households.

Over a third of pupils at Horace Maynard are eligible to receive a free or reduced-priced lunch, and some benefit from the school district’s donation-supplied food program, which provides students a weekly bag of groceries to take home to their families.

Helms sends her students home with hygiene bags the Friday before the end of the month. This is usually when items are needed most because those families who are on food stamps are low on money for other things like hygiene items,” she explained.

 The governments Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children program (WIC) provide state-level monthly help to low-income households in the form of a pre-loaded card to purchase vegetables, fruit, dairy and pantry items. Recipients cannot, however, use the cards to purchase non-food items, including toiletries and sanitary products.

Lisa Greenig, a teacher at Fairfield Middle School in southeast Iowa, said the idea for her schools hygiene closet came about after a discussion with fellow teachers about SNAP restrictions. Hygiene items can be expensive. Considering 50% of our students live under federal poverty guidelines, I decided to go public with the idea,” she said. “The community embraced the idea and has been very generous to help stock the closet,” which the school started in January.

So far, about 24 families have signed up ― parents and guardians of students just have to complete a registration form to receive items from the hygiene closet. We did not want to risk offending anyone by offering a bag of products without them submitting a request,” Greenig said. “At no time do we want families to feel embarrassed about using the closet.

The hygiene closet at Iowa's Fairfield Middle School, where half of the students live below the poverty line.



The hygiene closet at Iowa’s Fairfield Middle School, where half of the students live below the poverty line.

Greenig hopes more families, often reluctant to ask for help, will access the program once they realize how private distribution is. Re-orders typically come through email directly to me. I pack a bag and quietly place the items in the student’s locker. Refills fit in student backpacks so they can be carried home. With support from local businesses, such at the Hy-Vee grocery store, and backing from school Superintendent Laurie Noll and school board member Jennifer Anderson, Greenig says the district has plans to expand the program to the high school and two elementary schools.

Other programs are a direct response to changing family circumstances, such as homelessness. “We’ve had an increase in families losing their housing, doubled or even tripled up in a household,” said Stephanie Martinez, program director of student services for the Jefferson Elementary School District in California’s Bay Area. “It’s been pretty drastic and very challenging [for students] if they’ve lost their housing or have a long commute into school.”

Martinez is planning a hygiene pack program for the new school year to help students from the 100-plus families in the district living in transitional housing or shelters.

Lack of access to hygiene products can have a negative effect on the lives of children and teens, said Aleta Angelosante, a child psychologist at the Child Study Center at New York University’s Langone Health: If you are outwardly having difficulties with hygiene, it can certainly lead to at best being more neglected or ignored, at worst being pointed out and bullied in some way.

North Carolina nonprofit BackPack Beginnings set up a personal care pantry in its Greensboro headquarters about 18 months ago to help schools in Guilford County provide products to students.

We have heard stories concerning the way it impacts self-esteem and the fact that some are skipping school because they are embarrassed by their own hygiene,” said BPB Executive Director Parker White. Nearly 1 in 5 girls in the U.S., for example, have either left school early or missed school entirely because they did not have access to sanitary products. Many have heard of teachers buying food for their students, but fewer people hear about them buying hygiene products. Our teachers are underpaid as is, and we want to take this burden off their plate.

Many have heard of teachers buying food for their students, but fewer people hear about them buying hygiene products.
Parker White, executive director of BackPack Beginnings

 According to a survey of teachers who use DonorsChoose.org to make funding requests, 84% in the highest poverty schools have purchased essentials such as hygiene products for their students. Of those, 63% report spending more than $100 per year on these items.

Parker said about two dozen schools currently access the BPB pantry program, helping hundreds of students across the district.

While programs led and funded by nonprofits and teachers are to be celebrated, hygiene equity campaigners say this issue calls for state intervention. Most hygiene items are taxed under state laws; some, such as dandruff shampoo and chapstick, are not. Some progress has been made around access to sanitary products and several states, including Nevada and Florida, have removed the so-called “tampon tax.” California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom is unveiling a budget plan this week that would drop sales taxes on menstrual products. 

National nonprofit Period is calling for federal action to acknowledge menstrual products as necessities and to equip all K-12 public school bathrooms with free items to end what it calls “period poverty.” California, Illinois and New York are the first three states to require public schools serving students in grades six to 12 to provide free sanitary products. Meanwhile, Georgia voted last month to allocate $1 million to the state education department to provide free period products in schools. Period hopes other states will follow these leads.

But as long as government programs such as SNAP continue to put toothpaste and tampons on the same list of prohibited purchases as tobacco and beer, teachers, parents and local communities will likely still provide such items for low-income students.

Helms said the hygiene closet program had shown her just how much of a lifeline this and other assistance schemes are for many students in her community. As the Horace Maynard mother I spoke to told me, “The closet at my son’s school has helped us tremendously. The products that are sent home are used by all my kids. It’s really a very thoughtful thing to do to help make sure the kids feel loved. I would tell everyone that has donated thank you. A million times over, thank you.”

For more content and to be part of the “This New World” community, follow our Facebook page.

HuffPost’s “This New World” series is funded by Partners for a New Economy and the Kendeda Fund. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the foundations. If you have an idea or tip for the editorial series, send an email to thisnewworld@huffpost.com.

Giving Prisoners The Right To Vote Isnt A Fringe Idea. Its Already Happening.

Voting in prison seems like a fringe idea to almost all of the candidates seeking the 2020 presidential nomination.

Aside from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has embraced the idea, most 2020 candidates have treated it as an extreme position. While Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) say they are open to it, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) told PBS Newshour last month he found the debate over the issue “frustrating.”

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Julián Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary, say they support allowing nonviolent felons to vote, but not violent ones. Other candidates say they believe someone should be able to vote when they’re released from prison or have completed their sentences, but not while they’re incarcerated.

President Donald Trump and other Republicans appear eager to attack Democratic candidates over the issue, framing voting rights for people with felony convictions as a fringe and dangerous idea. At the NRA convention in April, Trump emphasized that convicted terrorists and mass shooters would be able to vote.

As candidates and voters are still working out the top issues of the 2020 election, it’s worth looking at how a practice so controversial nationally has already existed with little controversy in two states.

Convicted felons have long had the right to vote in Vermont and Maine. It’s not something that’s been particularly polarizing, people in both states say.

“We don’t hear much about it, quite frankly,” said Randall Liberty, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections. “It’s a foundational right. It’s a right as an American to vote.”

President Donald Trump mocked the idea of allowing prisoners to vote during a speech at the NRA convention last month.



President Donald Trump mocked the idea of allowing prisoners to vote during a speech at the NRA convention last month.

Inmates who are residents of either state vote with an absentee ballot, using the address where they last lived prior to going to prison (they can also register to vote at that address while they’re in prison). It’s not a burden to ensure that inmates vote, Liberty told HuffPost. Corrections officials facilitate visits from advocacy groups who help prisoners register and request ballots.

State election officials don’t distinguish absentee ballots from prisoners from any other ballot, so they don’t have data on how many prisoners actually vote, they told HuffPost.

“It is a total nonissue in this state,” said Seth Lipschutz, the supervising attorney at the Vermont Prisoners’ Rights Office.

Being able to vote is one of the few threads connecting people in prison to the larger community, said Joseph Jackson, who was incarcerated in Maine for nearly two decades on a manslaughter conviction. Although he was incarcerated, Jackson said he still was interested in having a say in decisions that would improve the lives of his family members outside of prison.

“It was really reassuring that there was one link I still had,” said Jackson, who now is a prison reform organizer and helps inmates register and request ballots.

It was really reassuring that there was one link I still had.
Joseph Jackson, former prisoner and prison reform advocate

There are two important factors that may affect Mainers and Vermonters’ tolerance for letting people vote from prison. Both states are overwhelmingly white and have some of the lowest incarceration rates in the country.

“Let’s just make sure we understand the Maine prison population, and the demographics of those that make up that prison population, doesn’t look like the majority of states,” Jackson said. He added that having a white prison population made it more palatable for lawmakers to allow prisoners to vote.

Both states have long histories of allowing people with felony convictions to vote. Neither state constitution bans felons from voting. The Maine Constitution neither grants nor denies people with felonies the right to vote, but lawmakers have never passed a statute restricting that right, said Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (D). There is a state law in Vermont that explicitly says incarcerated people can vote.

The practice has existed for so long in Vermont that residents and state officials had become accustomed to it as the norm, said Alec Ewald, a political science professor at the University of Vermont. “Crime and punishment” is not a particularly hot-button partisan issue in the state, Ewald added.

But the practice hasn’t gone unchallenged. In 2000, voters in Massachusetts approved a constitutional referendum to strip people of the right to vote in prison. In 2013, Maine lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to amend the state’s constitution to prohibit people convicted of the most serious crimes from voting. In the 1980s, there was a push to outlaw felon voting in Vermont. Jim Douglas, then the Republican secretary of state, helped stop the push by arguing that the Vermont Constitution clearly allowed it, according to The Associated Press.

“It’s written into our constitution. It’s really, part of our fundamental core values that people have the right to vote and that democracy works best when everybody has access to it,” said Cary Brown, the executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women. “It’s really more a matter of why would we take that away from people without a compelling reason.”

More Than 1,000 Guns, Piles Of Ammunition Found Stashed In Los Angeles Mansion

In a posh Los Angeles neighborhood located a stone’s throw away from the Playboy mansion and the multimillion-dollar homes of celebrities like Jay-Z and Beyoncé, authorities on Wednesday made a staggering discovery. More than 1,000 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition were found stashed in a mansion in Holmby Hills.

Los Angeles police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they’d arrested an unnamed man after serving a search warrant at the property at around 4 a.m. The suspect was arrested on suspicion of “unlawful transportation, and of giving, lending or selling an assault weapon,” the LAPD told the Los Angeles Times

Photographs and video taken in the bust’s aftermath show officers surveying piles of rifles and pistols stacked on blankets outside the home, and boxes upon boxes of ammunition arranged in piles inside.

Authorities reportedly received an anonymous tip about someone illegally manufacturing and selling weapons.

According to the AP, firearm manufacturing equipment and tools were also found in the mansion. 

This photo provided by the Los Angeles Police Department shows gun parts and ammunition, part of a large cache of weapons sei



This photo provided by the Los Angeles Police Department shows gun parts and ammunition, part of a large cache of weapons seized at a home in the affluent Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles on May 8, 2019.

Authorities seized more than a thousand guns from the Holmby Hills home after getting an anonymous tip regarding illegal fire



Authorities seized more than a thousand guns from the Holmby Hills home after getting an anonymous tip regarding illegal firearms sales.

Citing court records, the Times said the property, which is believed to be worth several millions of dollars, is owned by Cynthia Beck, who has three daughters with Gordon Getty, the son of oil baron J. Paul Getty. Beck’s connection with the weapon cache and the man’s arrest remains unknown, however. Beck reportedly owns several mansions in the LA area.

The mansion where the guns were found is located in an area popular with celebrities.

Jay-Z and Beyonce’s $88 million dollar home is located less than a mile away, the Times noted. The Playboy mansion and late singer Michael Jackson’s former home are also located nearby, per TMZ.

Trump Pits Florida Against Puerto Rico Over Emergency Aid: They Dont Like Me

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. ― President Donald Trump renewed his attacks on Puerto Rico at a rally Wednesday, this time pitting his supporters in Florida against the U.S. territory, both of which were destroyed by Category 5 hurricanes.

The Trump administration plans to provide 90% of federal emergency cleanup funds to the state of Florida to help with repair after Hurricane Michael struck last October, Trump said at his rally in Panama City Beach, Florida. Aware of complaints about a lack of disaster relief funding, the president blamed Democratic lawmakers and told his supporters, “You’re getting your money one way or the other.”

But the president was unable to announce his support for aid in Florida without once again demonizing the island of Puerto Rico, which continues to struggle after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, causing an estimated 3,000 deaths.

Trump falsely claimed Wednesday that Puerto Rico “got $91 billion” in aid after Hurricane Maria in 2017 and complained that the island is asking for more money. He also said Puerto Rico received the largest amount of aid ever distributed, which is also false.

“It’s the most money we’ve really given to anybody. We’ve never given $91 billion to a state,” he said. Congress provided about $120 billion in aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, according to the Congressional Research Service, though that storm hit three states.

Trump then held up a small piece of paper at the lectern displaying a bar graph meant to show that Puerto Rico received more aid than Florida and Texas. He pointed to the graph and said, “That’s Puerto Rico. They don’t like me.”

The president has often repeated the claim that his administration gave Puerto Rico $91 billion in hurricane relief funds. According to The Washington Post, the island has been allocated less than half that amount. About $11.2 billion has been spent so far, and $40.8 billion has been allocated to the island. The $91 billion comes from the allocated amount added to a $50 billion estimate of how much reconstruction will wind up costing over the coming decades.

The death toll from Maria is currently about 3,000, a huge jump from original estimates of 64 fatalities, but a Harvard University study said the number is closer to 4,645. Trump has claimed the numbers are fabricated by his political opponents to make him look bad.

Meanwhile, residents in Florida are still waiting for Washington to send aid more than 200 days after Michael ripped through the panhandle. More than two dozen people died in the very county where Trump held his rally. According to the Tampa Bay Times, about 5,000 students are homeless, and 1 out of 7 children never returned to school.

The president’s supporters in Florida seemed to take his anti-Puerto Rico rhetoric to heart, with some expressing anger over the lack of aid they’ve received.

Beth Thompson, a retired Panama City resident who attended the rally with her husband, Ronnie, told HuffPost she resented that “millions of dollars have gone to Puerto Rico” while Florida is “not getting the relief that we need.”

Ronnie and Beth Thompson sit outside while waiting for President Donald Trump's rally to start in Panama City Beach, Florida.



Ronnie and Beth Thompson sit outside while waiting for President Donald Trump’s rally to start in Panama City Beach, Florida.

“I don’t think it’s Trump’s fault, I think it’s Congress’ fault,” she said. “Because they’re against our president. And they’re doing everything that he doesn’t want to do.”

When HuffPost mentioned that Democrats want more money for Puerto Rico, Beth responded, “Why? They obviously haven’t done much with what we’ve given them.” 

Amy Klobuchar On Female Presidential Candidates: Discount Them At Your Own Peril

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is not deterred by anyone’s doubts about a woman’s chance of winning the presidency in 2020.  

At a Fox News town hall event on Wednesday in Milwaukee, the presidential candidate was asked about sexism in news coverage of the 2020 presidential candidates, as well as male candidates appearing to be ahead in early polling.

“I think, may the best woman win,” Klobuchar quipped. She noted that Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) is a woman, as is Wisconsin’s own Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D).

“Women won all kinds of elections,” Klobuchar said. “You discount them at your own peril.”

Klobuchar, the first woman from Minnesota elected to the U.S. Senate, is one of more than 20 Democrats in the 2020 presidential race so far. It’s the most diverse field of presidential contenders ever, with several women running, including women of color. The female candidates include Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif), and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).

Yet early polls show two white men ― former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ― consistently in the lead. In HuffPost’s polling in late March, Biden ― who had yet to announce his candidacy at the time ― was also the only contender whom the majority of Democratic voters (69%) named as capable of beating President Donald Trump in 2020. 

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar takes questions at a Fox News town hall meeting on May 8, 2019, in Milwa



Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar takes questions at a Fox News town hall meeting on May 8, 2019, in Milwaukee.

Earlier this week, Harris gave her own pointed response to anyone who may question certain candidates’ “electability.”

“There has been a lot of conversation by pundits about ‘electability’ and who can speak to the Midwest … and too often, their definition of the Midwest leaves people out,” Harris said in a speech at the NAACP Freedom Fund dinner in Detroit on Sunday.

Harris suggested those left out of the “electability” conversation are people of color and women.

“It leaves out people in this room who helped build cities like Detroit,” said the senator, who is black and Asian, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India. “It leaves out working women who are on their feet all day.”

“The conversation too often suggests certain voters will only vote for certain candidates,” Harris added. “And it is shortsighted, it’s wrong and the voters deserve better.”

Klobuchar is the latest presidential candidate to do a town hall on the conservative-leaning Fox News network. Sanders did one last month, and Gillibrand and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, are set to appear on Fox News in the coming weeks.

At the town hall, Klobuchar also responded to a question about reports this year from HuffPost and other outlets detailing allegations that she mistreated her staff.

“Do I have high standards for myself and for my staff and for my country? Yes, I do,” Klobuchar said. “Not everyone loves you. But that’s not your job. Your job is to do what’s right for this country.”