Good morning Austin:
Muhammad Ali was The Greatest.
As everyone who ever personally encountered him has, in the last couple of days, told their stories, I will tell mine, which, among all the stories now being told is pretty lame, but still places me, among all the humanity who existed on Planet Earth while Ali resided here, in pretty select company.
Sometime between Dec. 3 and Dec. 6, 1969, at a time when Ali was banned from boxing because of his refusal to be drafted and his opposition to the Vietnam War, my friend Barry and I, aged 15, went to see Ali, the actor, appear in a Black Power Broadway musical at the George (no relation as far as I know to Greg) Abbott Theater, at 152 W 54th Street, which was previously a TV studio where The Honeymooners were made, and was later torn down by Hilton to expand one of its properties.
The play was Buck White, in which Ali opened the second half of the show by walking down the middle aisle of the theater in an Afro (wig?) and onto the stage for the number, We Came in Chains.
The might of Uncle Sam – and a big chunk of public opinion – may have been arrayed against the man who Ed Sullivan introduced as MuhammadAliCassiusClay when he performed We Came in Chains on the really big shoo, but Ali had, in Barry and me, two white boys from Long Island in his corner.
And, apparently not too many others because – and this is why I know with such precision when we went to see him – the show only lasted seven performances, and I think I’d remember if we were there opening night.
|First Preview:||Total Previews:||16|
|Opening Date:||Dec 02, 1969|
|Closing Date:||Dec 06, 1969||Total Performances:||7|
December 1969. MuhammadAliCassiusClay is singing in a Black Power musical, and it only lasts seven performances?
And with a not at all terrible review from Clive Barnes?
Which raises the obvious question?
When will we get to see Donald Trump sing on Broadway in the great White Power musical, White Bucks, or, more likely, TRUMP!!!!, or, better yet, Trump U! The Musical.
The one great sin for which Ali may have to atone to history is that he gave narcissism a good name – albeit if, as in his case, it was well-earned and imbued with good cheer.
Now comes Donald Trump, the superlative candidate for president whose credo is less float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, than float like a dirigible, sting like swarm of fire ants.
And, if Trump U! The Musical it is, I have already come up with the showstopper number: a plaintive ballad with Trump, alone in the spotlight, singing, Stand by Your Scam.
So far, nothing has really caught up to Trump, but, the last week suggests, if anything will, it may be Trump University, if only because of how doggedly, unabashedly, brazenly, ridiculously devoted he is to a venture from which lesser men would have run as fast as they could, screaming Nolo contendere all the way.
From the Washington Post this weekend: Donald Trump said ‘university’ was all about education. Actually, its goal was: ‘Sell, sell, sell!’ by Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman and Dalton Bennett
Trump University was not a university. It was not even a school. Rather, it was a series of seminars held in hotel ballrooms across the country that promised attendees they could get rich quick but were mostly devoted to enriching the people who ran them.
Participants were enticed with local newspaper ads featuring images of Trump, then encouraged to write checks or charge tens of thousands of dollars on credit cards for multi-day learning sessions. Participants were considered “buyers,” as one internal document put it. According to the company’s former president, Trump did not personally pick the instructors. Many attendees were trained by people with little or no real estate expertise, customers and former employees have alleged in lawsuits against the company.
All told, Trump University received about $40 million in revenue from more than 5,000 participants before it halted operations in 2010 amid lawsuits in New York and California alleging widespread fraud. The New York attorney general estimated Trump netted more than $5 million during the five years it was active. He has since acknowledged that he gave none of the profits to charity.
This account is based on a review of hundreds of pages of internal company records that have become public as a result of the lawsuits, as well as new interviews with former Trump University employees and customers.
Many of the company’s internal records, including several “playbooks” that advised employees on strategies for pressuring customers, were unsealed in court over the past week in response to a request by The Post.
Trump and his lawyers have vigorously disputed the allegations, predicting that they will win in court and reopen the business. They point to positive customer-satisfaction surveys that have been submitted in the lawsuits and suggest they have been unfairly targeted by trial lawyers and a politically motivated attorney general in New York.
In recent days, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and her campaign have picked up on that theme.
“Trump U is devastating because its a metaphor for his whole campaign: promising hardworking Americans a way to get ahead, but all based on lies,” tweeted press secretary Brian Fallon.
Trump also last week invited a torrent of criticism, including from legal scholars on the left and right, for accusing the judge presiding over the California suits, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, of being biased because he is of Mexican descent. Trump has said that Curiel is “Mexican,” although the 62-year-old was born in Indiana, and that because Trump wants to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border the judge cannot properly do his job.
From Newt Gingrich, who is reportedly on the shortest of short lists to be Trump’s running-mate on Fox New Sunday.
CHRIS WALLACE: Are you comfortable with a potential president attacking a federal judge for his heritage?
GINGRICH: No. This is one of the worst mistakes Trump has made and I think it’s inexcusable. He has every right to criticize a judge and he has every right to say certain decisions aren’t right and his attorneys can file to move the venue from the judge.
But, first of all, this judge was born in Indiana. He is an American, period. When you come to America, you get to become an American. And Trump who has grandparents who came to the U.S. should understand this as much as anybody.
Second, to characterize, you know — if a liberal were to attack Justice Clarence Thomas on the grounds that he’s black, we would all go crazy. Every conservative would say it was wrong and it was racism.
And Trump has got to, I think, move to a new level. This is no longer the primaries. He’s no longer an interesting contender. He is now the potential leader of the United States and he’s got to move his game up to the level of being a potential leader.
But, Trump wasn’t budging.
And, on Face the Nation, Trump was still all aglow about Trump U, which he plans to reopen when he’s president.
TRUMP: Look, I have a case where thousands of people have said it was a great school. They have written reviews where they say it`s a great school. Not a good school, like great. They gave it <the> highest marks. I have thousands of these papers.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about Trump University. You`re going to reopen it. Anything you would do differently when you reopen it?
TRUMP: Look, I guess, in life, you always do things differently.
I`ll tell you, <the> thing that we did very well is, we had evaluation reports done by all of <the> students. Without that, it would be my word against their word, I guess, or somebody`s word against their word.
We have evaluation reports where we have thousands of them, thousands of them. And these reports, they`re very detailed reports. What did you think of<the> instructors? What do you think of this? What do you think of <the>questions? One to five. Mostly five, five being excellent, right? It`s from one to five, five being <the> best.
And, a favorite refrain, repeated at a rally in San Diego last week:
I could have settled this case many times, but I don’t want to settle cases when we are right. I don’t believe in it. And when you start settling cases, you know what happens? Everybody sues you because you get known as settler. One thing about me, I am not known as a settler,
Trump U is a dilemma for Trump’s supporters because he seems to be saying, if it’s not legit, I’m not legit.
And that ye who doubt Trump U are of little faith. Literally.
His parents, Fred and Mary, felt an immediate affinity for Peale’s teachings. On Sundays, they drove into Manhattan to worship at Marble Collegiate Church, where Peale was the head pastor. Donald and both his sisters were married there, and funeral services for both Fred and Mary took place in the main sanctuary.
“I still remember [Peale’s] sermons,” Trump told the Iowa Family Leadership Summit in July. “You could listen to him all day long. And when you left the church, you were disappointed it was over. He was the greatest guy.”
“Believe in yourself!” Peale’s book begins. “Have faith in your abilities!” He then outlines 10 rules to overcome “inadequacy attitudes” and “build up confidence in your powers.” Rule one: “formulate and staple indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding,” “hold this picture tenaciously,” and always refer to it “no matter how badly things seem to be going at the moment.”
Subsequent rules tell the reader to avoid “fear thoughts,” “never think of yourself as failing,” summon up a positive thought whenever “a negative thought concerning your personal powers comes to mind,” “depreciate every so-called obstacle,” and “make a true estimate of your own ability, then raise it 10 per cent.”
Over the years, as the public has walked by the buildings, gambled at the casinos and watched the TV show, the name has become ever more associated with overwhelming, gargantuan, and seemingly never-ending success. And in the process, Trump has created the armor-plated branding juggernaut, impervious to criticism, self-doubt, or self-reflection, which continues to roll over much of the Republican Party.
Whether or not Trump’s tireless self-advertisement will be enough to gain the Republican nomination, much less elect a president, is unknown. But it may well be that Trump will run into some of the same criticism as Peale himself later did. In an essay titled “Some Negative Thinking About Norman Vincent Peale,” a theologian from Yale University, William Lee Miller, wrote that Peale’s books had become “worse” since the original because “the rhetoric of the sermon has been replaced by the short, punchy sentences of the advertisement.”
Already it is clear that, thanks to Norman Vincent Peale and the magic of branding, Donald Trump is one of the most self-confident and most successful-seeming candidate the nation has ever seen. The question is whether the product will live up to the ad.
On Thursday, the Trump U story came home to Texas.
From USA TODAY.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office opened a deceptive trade practices investigation of Trump University in 2010 and chased the business out of the state, saying the promises made to students were “virtually impossible to achieve,” according to documents unearthed by a Democratic super PAC.
Assistant Attorney General Rick Berlin wrote to Donald Trump’s lawyers in June 2010 that Trump University seminars – for which students paid thousands of dollars – were targeted at real estate novices and promised “to teach these novices everything they need to know to be a successful residential real estate broker — in 3 days.”
But in Texas, “to become licensed as a real estate broker you must have 900 hours of classroom instruction and 2 years selling experience,” Berlin said, in the memo the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century uncovered through a public records request and provided to USA TODAY. The information given to students by Trump University “is essentially unusable,” and students “will be unable to recoup their investment in the course, much less make a profit, as promised by Trump U,” Berlin wrote.
“In addition to encouraging unlicensed activity (which is a misdemeanor in Texas),” Berlin wrote, “the course materials in a number of respects are simply wrong under Texas law.
In an email this week, AG spokeswoman Teresa Farfan told USA TODAY that after the office opened its probe, “we understand they left Texas.”
The investigation apparently never went further than the exchange of emails and documents between the AG’s office and Trump’s lawyers. In a May 2010 email, Trump lawyer Michelle Lokey said “it was never our client’s intent to deceive Texas consumers” and “nothing about the either the workshops or the materials presented at the workshops is, in fact, deceptive or misleading.”
Here is the money quote from Assistant Attorney General Rick Berlin: “Essentially what Trump U promises is virtually impossible to achieve.” (Oh ye of little faith.)
It seemed to me that American Bridge released those documents to USA TODAY for the purpose of demonstrating that even a hard-core, right-wing Republican saw Trump U as a scam, and perhaps also to place Republicans like Abbott in the uncomfortable position of having to explain why they were supporting a man for president who they believed was perpetrating that type of scam.
It was, in fact, surprising to me that at a time that Marco Rubio was calling Trump U a fraud and Trump a con man, I am surprised that Ted Cruz – who was solicitor general in Abbott’s Attorney General’s Office but left before the Trump U case – didn’t call Abbott and say, “Hey boss, can you send me the Trump U file?” and, with it in hand, unleashed on Trump at one of the debates, “Donald, you might have been able to scam New Yorkers with Trump U, but the Texas Attorney General’s Office, in which I served, rode you out of Texas on a rail.”
But then, right after the USA TODAY appeared Thursday, there was an AP story on Trump U, which contained a single paragraph toward the very bottom, that mentioned Texas.
Besides the probe that led to Attorney General Schneiderman’s suit in New York, the office of then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, opened a civil investigation of “possibly deceptive trade practices.” Abbott’s probe was quietly dropped in 2010 when Trump University agreed to end its operations in Texas. Trump subsequently donated $35,000 to Abbott’s successful gubernatorial campaign, according to records.
“I would bet my retirement that Greg Abbott knew about it and personally signed off on dropping it,” Owens told me on Friday morning.
Owens said the case against Trump was simply too well-developed and Trump too high-profile a figure for Abbott and his right-hand man, Daniel Hodge, not to have been in on the decision.
Owens said had no first-hand information to prove it, just long experience in the attorney general’s office.
According to a document that Owens had taken with him when he retired and that he dug out of storage and released Thursday when he was called by reporters, staffers in the attorney general’s office wanted to press forward to seek a $5.4 million settlement from Trump U in restitution, penalties and fees, when they were waved off in what he considered an atypical fashion.
From Gideon Resnick in The Daily Beast: Trump’s Get Rich Seminar Partnered With Couple Prosecuted for Fraud
He turned to a pair with a troublesome legal history to give him a hand.
Mike and Irene Milin were known to law enforcement officials in a number of states for a host of get-rich-quick schemes and alleged real estate scams. They were prosecuted by the Texas attorney general for deceptive trade practices, and sued by the makers of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, to name just two of the Milins’ many legal entanglements. But Michael Sexton—then president of Trump University, which he said at the time included the Trump Institute seminars, as well as online courses—partnered with the Milins nonetheless, according to a report from The Sacramento Bee.
The Milins’ oft-investigated National Grants Conferences, in effect, became the blueprint for Trump Institute. The two seminar businesses used some of the same speakers and shared office space in Boca Raton, Florida. The ads for Trump University promised to make people “millionaires,” just as the National Grants Conference commercials told customers they’d make them rich from government money. And, most importantly, Trump Institute operated itself in much the same manner as National Grants Conferences: After a promise of easy riches and a free seminar, customers were cajoled into doling out more and more money to get the key to unlocking wealth.
The problem in both cases: The key never opened anything.
The next move for the scamming couple was a Texas-based company called Information Seminars International, for which they were also sued—this time by the Texas attorney general in 1993—who found them liable for deceptive trade practices. The Milins’ program promised that if customers paid $499 for what they referred to as the “Milin Method,” the company would turn around and help them re-sell real estate at government auctions.
This was basically the same method they would use in their partnership with Trump.
Then-Texas Assistant Attorney General Bruce Griffiths alleged that the couple made $30 million annually off this scheme and that when customers tried to reach anyone associated with the company by phone, no one would pick up.
In a settlement that the couple signed that year, they and their partners were permanently barred from claiming that they had become wealthy from real estate. The Milins also agreed to use full names in any testimonials—though the brochures later distributed by NGC in the mid-2000s did not.
In 2006, the year that Trump joined forces with the now-bankrupt company, the Milins were accused of violating Vermont’s Consumer Fraud Act by William Sorrell, the state attorney general at the time. Sorrell called National Grants Conferences “unconscionable and illegal” in public documents of the allegations reviewed by The Daily Beast. The company was ordered to pay $65,000 in legal fees and an additional nearly $325,000 to customers.
Less than a year later, 34 state attorneys general wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission calling out the company for “deceptive advertising.” In 2010, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott took legal action against the company as well, resulting in them being unable to advertise as they had done so in the state.
The booming industry of real estate investment seminar gurus—who by the early 2000s numbered in the dozens—made it clear that you could make big money selling a roomful of people at a time on the dream of easy riches. But seminar work itself was complex, ranging from managing teams of traveling crew members to keeping sales pitches just murky enough that law enforcement wouldn’t butt in.
Trump wanted a piece of the action, so he struck a licensing deal with the Milins in 2006. The couple created the “Trump Institute,” using much of the same pitch material and some of the same pitchmen.
Though there were many similarities between the NGC and Trump Institute pitches, one thing had changed: the price. With the Trump name, membership had increased to $1,399.
But just as the Trump Institute got rolling, the Milins ran into legal troubles.
This wasn’t a new situation for the couple. In the 1990s, they were sued for deceptive trade practices by the Texas Attorney General’s office after hawking the “Milin Method” for real estate investing, complete with infomercials, hotel seminars, and a $499 package of books and tapes about how to get rich at government auctions.
Their “testimonials were fake,” former Texas Assistant Attorney General Bruce Griffiths told us in an interview. The Milins settled in 1993, paying $500,000 in restitution and agreeing to never again claim to have grown wealthy from real estate. Griffiths regrets settling for such a low sum. “It only paid off something like 12 cents on the dollar of what they collected,” he said. “They had a $30 [million] or $40 million a year operation.”
But on Friday, David Morales, who had been deputy attorney general for civil litigation in 2010, wrote a letter to the editor of the Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News, which had stories in Friday’s paper with Owens’ allegation. Abbott’s office also released the letter:
As Associate Deputy Attorney General for Litigation from 2004-2007, and Deputy Attorney General for Civil Litigation from 2007-2010, I was charged with supervising and managing 11 civil litigation divisions consisting of more than 300 Assistant Attorneys General who represented the State of Texas in federal and state courts. One of my responsibilities was approving our Consumer Protection Division’s opening of investigations and the allocation of resources to conduct those investigations. In 2009, I approved the opening of a Deceptive Trade Practices Act investigation into Trump University. My decision to approve the request to investigate and to devote state resources to that investigation was made without regard to the fact that the company was associated with Donald Trump.
During that investigation and following subsequent demands for documents, Trump University agreed to temporarily suspended its Texas operations. By May 2010, Trump University had agreed to permanently suspend of all operations in Texas. That agreement to permanently and immediately leave Texas was, in my opinion, the most important element of resolving this investigation. It ensured that no further Texas citizens would be exposed to the company and it did not preclude those consumers who felt they wanted a refund to demand it from Trump University or in court. At that time, I recall that the Office of the Attorney General had no written complaints from any of the consumers who participated in Trump University.
The articles published on June 2 concerning this investigation contain conjecture as to who may have been involved in the decision on this matter. To be clear, I did not discuss this matter with General Abbott or Daniel Hodge (who was incorrectly referenced as “second-in-command” at the time) prior to making my decision. Any suggestion otherwise is false. After the fact, I would have informed the Attorney General and First Assistant Attorney General Andrew Weber as a matter of course regarding this decision, along with dozens of others I would have made that week. I am proud that our Consumer Protection Division was able to get Trump University to immediately and permanently leave the State of Texas. Their good work served our Texas consumers well.
David’s a great guy. If he says he made the decision and then informed Abbott and Hodge, then I can’t dispute it. But, they could have reversed him easily. The decision to leave Texas consumers high and dry was effectively made by the entire administration, including Abbott. They can spin it all they want. They treated Trump differently from every other similarly situated scam artist. They did this for a reason. It was political. No other reason can explain why this was swept under the rug. (Stating that consumers could have individually taken on trump in individual lawsuits to recover their money is absurd. Trump voluntarily stopped doing business in Texas after he got our subpoena. Taking credit for Trump’s cessation of scamming Texans is ludicrous. Trump volunteered to stop.).
By mid-afternoon Friday, I thought that was about it for the story.
I was part of the reporter’s roundtable on Time Warner Cable’s Capital Tonight.
When Karina Kling asked how much long-term impact the Abbott/Trump U/contribution story would have, I said not much, that by Monday it would be in the rear-view mirror.
So why I am writing about it today?
Because it raises a variety interesting questions.
But also because of what happened after I said that.
With that, Owens informed MSNBC that he wouldn’t be able to appear on Chris Hayes’ show Friday.
I thought Abbott had a strong line of defense.
His office, without so much as a single written complaint, investigated Trump U and shut it down in Texas.
They could have pressed for damages, but Donald “I’m not a settler” Trump probably would have fought them and it would still be in court along with the other Trump U suits.
The Trump contributions were more likely a way for Trump to invest in the next governor of Texas than pay him off for easy treatment a few years earlier.
I understand why Democrats are trying to get a twofer or threefer out of the story.
But I thought the cleaner, clearer shot was that this story highlighted the dilemma that the Trump candidacy poses for Republicans in general, and Greg Abbott in particular.
I thought Texas Monthly’s Erica Grieder had it right, even if acknowledges that she lacks the capacity to enjoy Trump”
I am rethinking Trump U! The Musical.
It needs an upbeat spin, a la The Music Man.
Flim-flammer Donald Trump – Trump U Conservatory, Gold-Medal Class of ’05 – arrives in a sleepy-dreary Iowa town, promising to make River City great again. The plan is to fleece the townsfolk with promises of creating a boys’ band using the Think Method (think Norman Vincent Peale).
The fuddy-duddy powers-that-be root out that Hill is a fraud, but, as they are about to tar-and-feather him, the townsfolk realize how much happier they are than before he arrived, and, even though the band can’t really play their instruments, he has fulfilled the promise of making River City great again because, being great, after all, is only a state of mind.
But then the River City Democrats (because Republicans are clearly the powers-that-be in River City) tweet that it’s all been a corrupt bargain, that “bandmaster” Trump had kicked back some of the ill-gotten instrument and uniform proceeds to the mayor, that tar-and-feathering was too good for the likes of him.
Well, it’s a work in progress, and there’s still months before opening night.