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Local Halloween festivities, trick-or-treating reimagined during pandemic
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EAU CLAIRE — On a typical Eau Claire Halloween, 2,000 kids and parents would flood the city’s downtown, dressed as ghosts, witches and superheroes.

This year, the city has canceled its popular downtown Halloween event — where businesses traditionally open their doors for hundreds of trick-or-treaters — due to risks associated with the coronavirus.

But Downtown Eau Claire Inc. is planning a blitz of other Halloween events as a substitute.

“We (typically) hosted a couple thousand people in a short amount of time downtown,” said Dustin Olson, DECI communications and promotions coordinator, of downtown’s traditional Halloween festivities. “It’s shoulder-to-shoulder, very hard to keep people distanced.”

The new event lineup, dubbed the Halloween Hop, will begin with a virtual costume contest, which closes on Nov. 1, and a downtown window display competition, where community members can vote between Oct. 24 and Oct. 31 for their favorite window display at DECI’s website, downtowneauclaire.org/halloweenhop/. The winning business will receive free advertising courtesy of DECI, Olson said.

To enter the costume contest, people can submit photos of their children in their Halloween costumes to downtown@eauclairewi.gov or to DECI’s Facebook page, facebook.com/DowntownEauClaire/, by Nov. 1. Winners will receive gift cards to downtown businesses, Olson said.

On Oct. 31, downtown businesses will offer deals and sidewalk sales between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and may hand out candy, Olson said.

More information will be posted at DECI’s website closer to the event, including a list of businesses that plan to distribute candy on Halloween, Olson said.

In Chippewa Falls, the city is moving its annual downtown trick-or-treating to the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, 225 Edward St. In a modified drive-thru, costumed volunteers will hand baggies through the car window for each child, while supplies last, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 30.

County guidance

The Eau Claire City-County Health Department is recommending people give out candy in grab bags or avoid direct contact with other people, don’t trick-or-treat in different cities or towns, and stay away from crowded indoor Halloween parties or haunted houses.

“Our recommendation to anybody planning a family trick-or-treat community event is to follow basic principles,” said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, at a Sept. 17 news conference. “Keep a 6-foot distance, stay with a small group you know.”

The Health Department’s “biggest concern” is people gathering in large groups, flouting social distancing guidelines or both, Giese said on Sept. 24.

“We ask you to find creative ways to do Halloween slightly differently this year,” Giese said. “Don’t invite big groups of kids into your home if they ring your doorbell, and (don’t) spend a lot of time talking to them. Make sure people aren’t congregating together at big Halloween parties.”

People who have COVID-19, or who’ve been exposed to someone with the virus, shouldn’t give out candy to trick-or-treaters or attend Halloween gatherings, the Health Department said Monday.

In addition to COVID-19 risks, the Health Department also asked people to avoid eating homemade treats made by strangers, have kids walk on the right side of the road and on sidewalks when possible, carry flashlights at night, make sure kids wear reflective clothing and wash hands before eating treats.

Haunted houses likely higher risk

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified several Halloween activities according to risk:

Low risk:

  • Carving pumpkins, Halloween scavenger hunts and virtual costume contests.

Moderate risk:

  • Grab-and-go trick-or-treating with individually wrapped candy bags handed out at a distance; small-group outdoor costume parades with people six feet apart; outdoors costume parties with people wearing masks and staying six feet apart; and visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people are sanitizing their hands before touching fruit or produce, masks are encouraged or enforced and people stay six feet apart.

Higher risk:

  • Traditional trick-or-treating (treats handed to kids going door-to-door); trunk-or-treats, where treats are handed out from car trunks in parking lots; crowded costume parties held indoors; hayrides with people not in your household; indoor haunted houses; or traveling to fall festivals outside your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19.

Take extra care with haunted houses, the CDC said: “If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised.”

Unless it has two or more layers of breathable fabric over the mouth and nose, costume masks aren’t a good substitute for cloth masks, the agency noted.

Ethics experts see national security concerns in Trump's debt
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Revelations that President Donald Trump is personally liable for more than $400 million in debt are casting a shadow over his presidency that ethics experts say raises national security concerns he could be manipulated to sway U.S. policy by organizations or individuals he’s indebted to.

New scrutiny of Trump, who claims great success as a private businessman, comes after The New York Times reported that tax records show he is personally carrying a staggering amount of debt — including more than $300 million in loans that will come due in the next four years.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was blunt about the potential implications. “He may be vulnerable to financial blackmail from a hostile foreign power and God knows what else,” said Warren, a frequent Trump critic.

The Times said the tax records also show that Trump did not pay any federal income taxes in 11 years between 2000 and 2018, raising questions about the fairness of a president — who purports to be a billionaire — paying less in taxes than most Americans.

The politically damaging revelations about Trump’s tax avoidance, however, are perhaps less concerning than word the president is holding hundreds of millions of dollars of soon-to-mature debt, ethics experts said.

“Americans should be concerned about the president’s debt because it’s a national security risk for our country,” said Donald Sherman, deputy director of the nonprofit government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “This is information that the president has aggressively and repeatedly tried to keep away from the public.”

Trump, citing an ongoing Internal Revenue Service audit, has refused to follow the post-Watergate precedent set by other presidents of releasing his tax returns, so the complexities of his financial interests and who he does business with have remained opaque. He’s fighting ongoing court battles with New York’s attorney general, Manhattan’s district attorney and two House committees who want the records.

Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics attorney in Republican George W. Bush’s White House, also noted that Trump-owned companies have declared bankruptcy six times, raising the question: Why have lenders been willing to keep risking loans of such enormous amounts?

“Why would banks assume the risk on these loans?” Painter said. “Or did someone else quietly assume risk of that loan for the bank to make it happen?”

Trump, according to his latest financial disclosure statement, reported that he had 14 loans on 12 properties.

One lender, Germany-based Deutsche Bank, continued to do business with Trump even after he defaulted in 2008 on a loan for his Chicago hotel and condo development. Trump filed suit against the bank and others whom he blamed for his inability to repay.

But Deutsche Bank’s private banking division continued to lend to Trump, including $125 million to finance the purchase and renovation of his Doral golf resort in 2012, according to previous disclosures.

Trump on Monday suggested that his debt load is hardly unusual in comparison with his assets, claiming in a tweet that he’s in fact “extremely under leveraged.”

“I have very little debt compared to the value of assets,” he wrote, adding that he may release a financial statement that spells out all assets, properties and debts.

Trump during an appearance on Monday ignored a reporter’s question about when he might release such a statement, and the White House would not comment on when he might follow through. He said repeatedly before his election that he would release his actual taxes but never has.

Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis, said that a separate financial statement from Trump would shed little light on his business dealings if he does not disclose who his business partners are in his various holdings.

“The Trump Organization consists of hundreds of LLCs (limited liability corporations) that have been listed on his financial disclosure forms,” Clark said. “One of the things that Trump has benefitted from and that oligarchs and money launderers benefit from is opaqueness of LLCs, ... the ease of which individuals can hide their assets, can hide their financial interests.”

Trump refused to divest his business interests after his 2016 victory, and left day-to-day operation of his family’s real estate and other holdings to his sons Donald Jr. and Eric. Still, the president has benefitted personally from U.S. and foreign government activity at his properties since his election and hasn’t shied away from promoting his hotels and golf courses.

Republicans have held at least 88 political events at his properties, the president has visited his hotels and golf courses more than 500 times, and at least 13 foreign governments have held events at Trump establishments, according to a tally by CREW.

The administration drew criticism last year when Vice President Mike Pence, while visiting Dublin for meetings, lodged at Trump International Golf Links and Hotel more than 180 miles away in Doonbeg, Ireland. And Trump scrapped a plan to hold a meeting of the Group of 7 world leaders at one of his Florida properties last year after bipartisan criticism.

In the runup to his 2016 election victory, Trump played down his bankruptcies as a smart business strategy and even referred to himself as the “king of debt.”

“I’ve always loved debt, I must be honest with you,” Trump said during a campaign rally. “I don’t love it for countries, but I love it individually. If things work out good that’s great, if they don’t, you go renegotiate.”

The New York Times, citing the tax records it obtained, also revealed that Trump did not pay federal income tax in 11 of 18 years, and just $750 each year for 2017 and 2018, as he claimed millions of dollars in business losses.

Top Democratic lawmakers on Monday called Trump’s tax avoidance galling, but seized on his debt as perhaps more concerning.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on MSNBC that “our responsibility is to protect and defend and we have to make sure we know what exposure the president of the United States has, and what an impact it has on national security decisions for our country.”

Painter said that if Trump were attempting to appoint someone with his massive debt load to a high-profile government position, the nominee would almost certainly face trouble getting a security clearance. Indeed, inability or unwillingness to satisfy debts and a history of not meeting financial obligations could disqualify any federal employee from receiving a security clearance, according to government guidelines.

Peter Schweizer, the president of the Government Accountability Institute, said, “The question is also one of whether the loans are tied to actual assets such as buildings, etc., or was the political figure granted special favors in getting loans. Politicians and their families can engage in commercial transactions, the question is whether the loans are unusual and unique compared to others in the marketplace.

Trump is hardly the first president to contend with debt, either in office or later in life.

Thomas Jefferson, whose peak net worth in current dollars reached $236.8 million according to research by 24/7 Wall Street, died in debt. The debt was accrued during and after his presidency — as well as by relatives — and his family sold dozens of enslaved people from his Monticello estate to satisfy his liabilities.

On the other hand, Barack Obama, in his second term, encouraged American homeowners to refinance their mortgages as rates dropped well below what he was paying, but he said he and his wife were holding off.

“When you’re president, you have to be a little careful about these transactions, so we haven’t refinanced,” Obama explained at the time.

Political science profs preview tonight's president debate
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CHIPPEWA FALLS — About 84 million people tuned in to watch the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016, which was a record high. With the news of Donald Trump’s records being released — showing he paid $750 annually in federal taxes for two years — viewership could climb even higher tonight.

“I expect there will be a lot of people watching,” said Geoff Peterson, UW-Eau Claire political science professor and department chairman. “The only question is how many minds are being changed.”

Peterson added: “It’s going to make for some fascinating TV, but it will probably have even less impact than ever before. By the third debate, a substantial amount of people will have already voted.”

Area political science professors shared their thoughts Monday on what each candidate has to do to win the night and persuade viewers to support them.

“Both will claim victory; the real test is what the overnight polls say,” Peterson said.

Polls throughout 2020 have consistently shown Joe Biden is ahead; Real Clear Politics on Monday shows an average of Biden ahead 6.8% nationwide, although that margin is narrower in swing states. Peterson said those polls are a factor entering tonight’s debate.

“The person who is behind has to work harder,” Peterson said. “For Biden, he needs to not make mistakes, or let Trump goad him into saying something. Trump needs to be more aggressive. But if he says something wildly inappropriate about race or gender, that could be really damaging.”

In recent days, Trump has suggested that Biden has been taking drugs to help him appear awake and focused.

“That’s one of the accusations you don’t respond to,” Peterson said. “One of Trump’s clear styles is to throw everything at his opponent and see what sticks, and Biden has to not take the bait.”

Rich Postlewaite, a UW-Stout social science professor and former Democratic candidate for state Assembly, is intrigued to see how much preparation Trump has put into this debate.

“It will be interesting, compared to 2016, because he didn’t have anything to lose,” Postlewaite said. “I’m sure his staff will try to get him to focus in on a couple subjects, and prepare him. But will he stick to his script, or go off on his own?”

Postlewaite said both candidates need to hit the right notes to win the debate.

“I think Biden has to come across and kill the rumors he’s pre-dementia,” Postlewaite said. “Trump has to come across as a straightforward leader.”

Postlewaite said that when a question about Trump’s taxes inevitably comes up, Trump needs to convince Americans that real estate dealings come with years of profitability but also steep losses.

“He’s got to convince Americans this isn’t a normal, 9-to-5 job,” Postlewaite said.

Trump also has to combat polls that show Americans don’t think Trump has done a good job handling the pandemic, Postlewaite said.

“He’s going to say ‘I’ve done this the best I can, and no one saw it coming,’” Postlewaite said. “And he’ll say some of the blame goes to the governors as well.”

Like Peterson, Postlewaite said that while it will be fascinating TV, it probably doesn’t impact many voters.

“It’s not going to change many minds,” Postlewaite said. “It’s to reinforce or add comfort to people who are already leaning that way.”

Kimberly Zagorski, UW-Stout political science professor, has decided she will actually listen to the debate on the radio. In 1960, polls showed that people who listened to Richard Nixon thought he won, while those who watched the debate on TV thought John Kennedy won.

“I think President Trump will be himself, like he was in 2016 against Hillary Clinton,” Zagorski said. “The real unknown is the approach Joe Biden will take. I think for Biden, (winning the debate) is not letting Trump get to him. For Trump, it’s for him to not go too off-topic.”

Zagorski is interested in seeing how the news stories of Trump paying so little in federal taxes will be raised and discussed.

“I think it will give good talking points for Joe Biden,” Zagorski said. “Even if the topic doesn’t directly speak to taxes, it would be to Biden’s benefit to discuss that.”

Like the other professors, Zagorski doesn’t expect many minds to change based on what is said.

“One thing is to keep your base voting for you, and that is easier for Trump, because his base hasn’t wavered,” she said. “Registered voters likely have their minds set. Most people have their minds set shortly after the (political) conventions.”

Watching Wallace

Fox News reporter Chris Wallace will be the lone moderator. Wallace had previously released the six topics that will be discussed during the debate. Wallace has indicated he doesn’t plan on being a “fact-checker,” correcting misstatements or exaggerations.

“I will be most interested in what Chris Wallace does as a moderator,” Peterson said. “He gave Trump one of the first tough interviews this year. Will Chris Wallace call Trump out, or Biden, too, if they something untruthful? I will probably be paying more attention what Chris Wallace says, and how he reacts.”

Postlewaite agreed that Wallace’s role is pivotal in how the night plays out.

“Chris Wallace is a really good journalist. He is a fair interviewer,” Postlewaite said. “It may depend on the softballs or curveballs he throws at them.”

Zagorski agreed that the moderator will be a factor.

“Chris Wallace is pretty good; hopefully he can keep both speakers on time,” Zagorski said.